Tales of a Covid-19 ravaged Zimbabwean community in UK

Tapiwa Dzingirai
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“MANY loved ones will die!” screams a newspaper headline.

As Covid-19 spreads, another headline ramps up emotions: “Daughters lose dad and big sister to coronavirus within days of each other — now their mum’s in hospital.”

Amid all this, the United Kingdom government, keen to placate a restive population, makes it known that there is “cash for sick workers”.

Welcome to 2020, the year in which Covid-19 suspended people’s “lives” while killing thousands on a scale never seen before in recent history.

While the disease was detected in China and subsequently reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in December 2019, it was not until March this year that the UK government put in place unprecedented and compulsory measures, albeit impinging on civil liberties.

Social distancing measures have been in place since mid-March, compelling people to maintain a physical distance of two metres.

Bars, restaurants, sports centres and non-essential shops have remained closed, and this is expected to be reviewed on an ongoing basis over the next few months.

There is an indication that the measures are bearing fruit, daily death figures have tumbled from 900 daily around Easter to less than 200 currently.

Painfully, proper funerals are “banned” as relatives barely have an opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones in a dignified manner.

Only a handful of family members are allowed at burials and images of trenches being dug are beamed on television, a stark reminder of the times of ahead.

The thousands who have died due to the coronavirus appear as statistics, but this does not tell the grief and pain as well as the sombre stories in various communities tortured by the effects of this pandemic.

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete,” writes Viktor Frankl in “Man’s search for meaning”.

A worrying trend with those dying from the pandemic in the UK, has been the demographic profile.

More ethnic and black minority communities have been affected by the disease and this includes the Zimbabwean community.

Figures have not been tabulated to indicate mortality rates based on nationalities.

While black and Asian ethnic minorities constitute under 15 percent of the total UK population, the percentage for coronavirus deaths is relatively higher, a concern for many.

More work is underway to establish the causative nexus to this trend.

For example, according to the Office of National Statistics, of the 12 593 patients who died in hospital up to April 19, 19 percent were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), a significantly higher proportion.

Away from the figures, the significant challenges are on the scars that the virus has inflicted on families and communities.

Consider the case of Erick Zimowa whose funeral is set for May 26.

The 50-year-old was stranded in Zimbabwe when the lockdown was announced in the UK.

After contingency plans were put in place, he managed to fly out of Zimbabwe on April 15.

Sadly, he got infected with the virus and died in hospital, leaving behind three grown up children in the UK and others back in Zimbabwe.

Zimowa, who previously worked as a teacher in Zimbabwe, moved to the UK in 2002.

Nephew Tapiwa Dzingirai described Zimowa as a much-loved colleague and family orientated person.

“Life will never be the same again for us as a family.

‘‘The challenge is that we have to work out who will attend the funeral and there is no option of having those abroad attending,” Dzingirai explained.

Dzingirai speaks of the dark cloud hovering over the family and he struggles to rationalise this.

He is not alone.

Some 10 days ago, Rebecca Mlambo buried her husband Guide Gapare who was affectionally known as Mhofu in the company of her 12-year-old son.

“My son was confused. I just cannot believe it that Mhofu is gone,” Rebecca said.

Mhofu’s case is painful. This gentle soul contracted the virus after consoling his ex-wife following the death of their first daughter, Gillian.

Mhofu’s case is anecdotal evidence of how communities have been severely affected by the coronavirus, whose treatment is still being sought.

When he consoled his family, this was pursuant to the practice of pulling together in such difficult times.

Fatefully, Mhofu contracted the virus and died after seven days in hospital on oxygen therapy.

At the time of writing, at least five people who consoled the Mhofu family had died and hastily buried in the UK.

Ordinarily, families would have had a choice to repatriate the deceased back to Zimbabwe for burial.

While information filters through the Zimbabwean communities about deaths and funerals, in equal measure some have recovered from the disease.

Paul Kazingizi, who has worked as a practice manager at a Birmingham hospital, told us of the pain and “weird feeling” when he was affected by the disease.

“My body was aching, I could not eat and I was feeling extremely cold,” Kazingizi said.

“My wife would prepare a bath with hot water to a point that I got bruises, but felt nothing.

‘‘I have never felt this way before. I also had to stay on my own for two weeks, staying in the bedroom, using a bucket for all toilet needs. I was very worried and scared and refused to go into hospital fearing for my life.”

As Kazingizi improved, his wife and three other family members were affected by the virus.

The family feared for the worst but luckily the symptoms passed as mild.

The UK government has asked people to work from home where possible.

Those who have been out of work are being paid 80 percent of their wages up to £2 500 through some special schemes which will cost the government billions of pounds.

Whatever happens, the virus has reset all aspects of our lives and after 2020, life will never be the same again. – Sunday Mail