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

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

Advertisting

‘Frustrated’ police resort to force

Regulation uncertainty leaves slap-happy police and soldiers to decide when people should or shouldn’t be allowed on the streets

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders