Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy trumps coronavirus concerns

When Arnold Muchenje* (44) disembarked from the bus in Harare, he felt as if he was entering a different world. He had travelled from Johannesburg which had recorded 116 positive coronavirus cases as of Wednesday afternoon. But those he met upon his arrival in Zimbabwe seemed more worried about the country’s economic crisis than about the pandemic.

Zimbabwe has yet to record a single coronavirus case.

In Harare’s Central Business District, no one is wearing masks or covering their mouths. People are still hugging, shaking hands and kissing each other on the cheek. Rarely is hand sanitiser provided within any of the city’s offices and public facilities. Life continues exactly as it did before the coronavirus outbreak began.

Muchenje said there was no trace of nervousness he had felt in some parts of South Africa over the outbreak of the virus. “In Johannesburg, I saw people who were nervous. The situation is different here. It is as if this corona is a foreign disease which will not reach these shores,” he said.

He added that he believes it is a matter of time before the virus enters Zimbabwe.

“With all the people coming from South Africa and other places freely, the virus will surely come. I think people here have not enough information. If the virus is to come, they won’t know what will have hit them,” he said, as he passed vendors selling their wares near the city’s Copacabana taxi rank.

One vendor, Dorcas Mlambo (29) said she had heard about Covid-19, but that the virus was not her immediate worry. The thing uppermost in her mind is providing for her family.

“Even if this virus is to come. I will continue coming to town to sell. If I stay home what will my children eat? As you can see, things are getting worse under Mnangagwa. Mugabe was better,” she said.

Mlambo’s economic worries come amid moves by the Zimbabwean government to lift restrictions on forex changing. The new policy has resulted in price hikes as the local currency, the new Zimbabwean dollar, rapidly depreciated. 

Zimbabwe’s government has been more proactive in dealing with the coronavirus threat than some other governments in the region, however.

On Tuesday, Mnangagwa declared a National Disaster, and postponed major social events including the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and the 40th Independence Day celebrations. He also said that all sporting fixtures had been suspended, and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, including for religious purposes and weddings, for the next 60 days. Schools will be allowed to finish the remaining two weeks of the current term.

On Wednesday, just a day after announcing the ban on public gatherings, Mnangagwa addressed a Zanu-PF rally in Manicaland that was attended by hundreds of people and several cabinet ministers.

Last week, opposition MP Tichinani Matevera — who is also a medical doctor — told Parliament that the government’s claim that Zimbabwe was prepared for Covid-19 was questionable.

“Our central hospital at Parirenyatwa ICU for the whole of this region has got four working ventilators and those people will need life support. I think when we talk about prevention and readiness, we have to be comprehensive but I do not think we are ready. We are only ready in terms of saying it has not come but when it comes it will be a disaster. The health workers will run away and that is actually what they are saying,” he said.

Matevera said some health personnel had not been adequately trained and that Zimbabwe did not have the equipment necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We need to improve on our screening tools. Our screening tool which we are using at our port of entry is not sensitive enough to pick all the potential people who are going to bring in infection into Zimbabwe.”

Precious Shumba, the director of Harare Residents Trust, said that the government’s recommendation to wash hands regularly may be difficult to implement in some parts of the city.

“The requirement to wash hands regularly as a preventive measure is good but in most communities there is no water,” Shumba said.

*Name changed at interviewee’s request

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki urged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure

South Africa needs to make pension system more inclusive, study...

South Africa’s pension system is ranked 31st out of 43 countries, receiving a C-grade which indicates major risks and shortcomings that should be addressed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×