Hollow be thy name! Mnangagwa’s Easter message misses it

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe has just gone over half into the national lockdown to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the President gave his Easter message Friday, he missed several things that are making this holiday and beyond dangerous and gloomy.

It is not just about worshippers and families failing to gather to pray in churches or visiting each other. It is not about people worrying, and duly observing measures to fight a deadly disease.

Nor is it about people enriching and renewing their faith during this Easter period.

This year’s Easter represents an extraordinary fight for survival for ordinary people, as their lives and livelihoods are under threat: and we are going to come back from Easter worse and more endangered. Unfortunately, this is a recognition that Mnangagwa missed completely.

Let’s bring it home. By Friday, Zimbabwe had recorded 13 positive cases of Covid-19, and three deaths.

The way the crisis has been handled does not inspire confidence that the nation will pull through, in the absence of adequate measures and actions that will ensure that the pandemic will be defeated.

(Many people are, in fact, just praying for an act of God to save his people during one of these nights.)

No meaningful investment in the health sector to handle the crisis.

The Wilkins saga remains a symbol of failure by the central to adequately prepare for the emergency and its progression. Government failed to provide resources that were needed here, to the tune of $6.7 million, and left the City of Harare to its own devices. The city complained that it was given an “unfunded mandate”.

And it was the Chinese Embassy and business community that brought all the change to the institution, pouring US$500 000 for refurbishment and to ensure decency to the centre. To date, Government has not said anything about money it was supposed to channel to Wilkins.

On the other hand, Government, which appears to be just waiting for handouts, has not made any meaningful investment in other institutions across the country that – as pictures show – are decrepit and run down.

Apart from established facilities, there are some field facilities that are being set up in the most rudimentary fashion. They are like makeshift hospitals in a war: such an embarrassment in 2020 Zimbabwe! (In fact, Information Secretary Nick Mangwana this week reasoned on Twitter that people should stay home so that they should not end up in these facilities.)

Contrariwise, there have been indications that upmarket facilities are being upgraded and padded to treat the elites. The poor are on their own.

This is an existential threat that people are facing as their health is in a precarious position due to lack of facilities for the poor. Additionally, Zimbabwe has not taken advantage of the 21-day window to roll out massive tests and contact tracing, which are the logical objects of a lockdown.

That has not taken placing owing to lack of resources.

Mnangagwa did not address this crucial issue that will mean that the current lockdown, which is halfway through, will not have the desired or scientifically sound results.

At this point it will be crucial to point out that there has been a lot of unfavourable comparisons drawn between South Africa and Zimbabwe and how our respective leaders have handled the crisis. We deserve such poor comparisons. Mnangagwa deserves the comparison, too: at this time he is not providing the much needed inspiration for a distressed country like Zimbabwe.

It is made worse when the President of the Republic and his deputies routinely make ceremony of officially receiving bottles of hand sanitizers at State House.

There is more. The state and condition of survival of the people of Zimbabwe, in particular the urban poor and vulnerable is dangerous, and will deteriorate in the days to come.

It is becoming a cliché that Zimbabweans live from hand to mouth. They do.

With massive informal employment in the country, the shutdown is an attack on the very livelihoods of people who have to earn a living. This, of course, a debate that has attended the concept of lockdowns across the world, as a social justice issue.

In Zimbabwe, the issue is as alive. We have a situation where people are not earning and there are no cheap or complimentary goods for the vulnerable. This explains why there are massive wars for cheap mealie meal and why thousands of people from poor neighborhoods flock to less populated shopping centres in search of food.

We will not pay attention to publicised Government schemes that are purported to provide social safety for the hungry, malnourished, poor and vulnerable, including the informally employed. They are always inadequate and are susceptible to being looted by elites. There is nothing new there.

Other social conditions militate against these poor folk. They lack access clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Government has not embarked on any meaningful investments in the WASH sector and water shortages have continued as if nothing has happened.

Lastly, Zimbabwe has an HIV prevalence rate of 12.7 percent. This predisposes a significant part of our population to the double danger of the existing and new pandemics. Connected to this, are non-communicable diseases, which again complicate the situation.

An estimated 33 percent die annually of NCDs and the impact of this phenomenon on the current pandemic is significant and yet untold as of now.

We all needed to know of the gains – and losses – made so far in tackling the pandemic and what the next few weeks will look like.

(Some people are, unfairly in my view, already deriding the Zimbabweans leader of looking furtively to South Africa to “copy” its extension of the national lockdown.)

However, the President missed the sense of occasion in his Easter address.

The religious message was not enough, insofaras people’s pressing needs – and dangers – are unattended.

It rang hollow. – R&M

This article was first published on http://www.reviewandmail.com/