Zimbabwe just like many other nations of the world had to contend with the effects of Covid-19 pandemic for the whole of 2020,at the beginning of March, the country had no option but to follow World Health guidelines to curtail not only the spread of the virus but also socio-economic activities.
With the year spilling over to the new year 2021, Zimbabwe was again hit by an unprecedented surge in the number of Covid-19 cases, but there was always a lingering feeling that the government is not telling the full story.
The Covid 19 cases skyrocketed, while the central government was on a rampage with cheap politicking and giving contradictory and sometimes conflicting information about the Covid-19 situation on the ground.
For instance in one hand, the Information ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana said the country was overwhelmed, while the Vice-President Kembo Mohadi rest assured the nation that there were enough equipment to cater for Covid-19 patients and there was no need to panic.
However, in spite of the government’s assurances, a number of people took to social media enquiring for information on where they could get oxygen and hospital beds, which seemed to fly in the face of suggestions that the authorities had everything under control.
In response to this Covid-19 second wave, which in January threatened to bring the nation to a standstill, government introduced a fresh lockdown currently underway until the end of February.
The Zimbabwean government strongly urged the public to follow World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines to frequently wash hands, wear masks in public places and hand sanitization at workplaces, homes and supermarkets.
To enforce these regulations, several police and military roadblocks were manned on main roads leading in and out of the cities, however fresh investigations into the conduct of police and military men at roadblocks to check whether they are adhering to the WHO Covid-19 guidelines have reflected otherwise.
Police and army details at checkpoints flouted the very regulations they were supposed to enforce, mostly social distancing and sanitisation.
Repeated observations have also revealed that busy roadblocks along the trunk roads leading into town were stopping upward of 3 000 vehicles per day where the details demanded and handled exemption documents from the motorists and passengers.
Exposing both the officers and the travelers to Covid-19.
Health not a priority
Doctors and nurses in the country have been striking on and off over inadequate salaries and poor working conditions for more than two years now.
As it presides over a shrinking economy, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has tried to boost health spending in relation to other areas but it still falls short of what is required.
In the 2021 budget, Ncube allocated 12.74% ($668m) of the national budget to the health sector, the highest allocation for decades as a percentage of total spending. That figure is below the 15% required by the Abuja Declaration which requires all African Union countries to set aside at least 15% of their budget towards improving the health sector.
Harare’s public hospitals have only 30 intensive care unit beds, according to Norman Matara, secretary of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights.
Itai Rusike, Community Working Group on Health executive director tells The Africa Report that the Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting a deeper problem in the financing of public health delivery services.
“The health services in Zimbabwe are underfunded and have been so for the past two decades. For Covid-19 the demand is at the frontline, but also at the hospitals providing intensive care where there is a serious shortage of PPE, diagnostics and generally poor remuneration for the health workers.”
Since March 2020 when Zimbabwe recorded its first Covid death, about 1500 health workers across the country have contracted the respiratory disease while eight have succumbed to it, says the Zimbabwe Medical Association.
Covid-19 on the economic front
The Covid-19 pandemic also imposed new challenges on the economy. The informal sector is the worst hit. Government’s lockdowns starting in March effectively closed down informal markets. Formal business also struggled to retain their employment capacities leading to a number of firms cutting down the size of their work force.
According to a study carried out by Chaora (2020), 32% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that responded to the survey indicated that they shut down operations completely and adopted a wait and see approach. Forty-one percent (41%) closed the physical office and continued to work remotely. Only 35% of respondents remained operational in their office space during the lockdown. Of those who continued to operate 20% indicated they had essential staff only with strict measures in place for social distancing and maintained high standards of hygiene. Furthermore, the majority (95%) of the respondents indicated that the lockdown had negatively affected their finances and prospects for long term viability.
When measured by incomes, own production capacities and remittance support, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that livelihoods deteriorated throughout 2020. Social protection measures such as price controls were removed.
Unlike in 2008 where shops were literally empty, this time around the shops remained full but real demand was suppressed. Earnings and savings were eroded by the shift from the official 1:1 parity between the United States dollar (USD) and the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar. The prices of basic goods moved in alignment with the parallel exchange rate.
Livelihoods are usually discussed in isolation from government’s (central and local) policies. The capacity to generate and maintain livelihoods is always either negatively or positively affected by the policy regime in place. Policies with a direct impact on livelihoods range from those purely focused on the economy to those that seek to improve social service delivery.
Despite the direct relationship between policies and livelihoods there are very few instances where those affected by policies are actually engaged at the design level of policy. Our data from field surveys already shows that only 39,82% citizens are engaged in policy consultations.
The government of Zimbabwe has since 2018 been engaged in a process of neo-liberal restructuring under the banner of ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’. The measures that have been implemented to date are synonymous with the structural adjustment programme of the 1990s. Unlike under Robert Mugabe, the new government has pinned its hopes on attracting foreign direct investment and, in the process, joined the rest of Africa in what is commonly referred to as the ‘race to the bottom’.
Edith Chibhamu is business woman, human rights defender and aspiring president under Zimbabwe Democratic and Economic Freedom Party (ZDEFP)