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Covid claims Zimbabwe’s foreign minister amid surge in cases

The death on Wednesday of Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo because of Covid-19 complications came as the country is in the throes of the second wave of the virus. Moyo’s signature policy, which was to normalise relations with Western countries, remains as unfinished business.

A former army general, Moyo was thrust onto the international spotlight in November 2017 when he announced the ouster of then-president Robert Mugabe in a military-backed operation on national television.

He becomes the third Zimbabwean minister to die of Covid-19 since the first case was reported in the country in March last year. Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri died in July last year, followed by Manicaland Provincial Minister Ellen Gwaradzimba last week.

By Tuesday this week, Zimbabwe had recorded more than 28 000 cases and 825 deaths.

By 20 December, Zimbabwe had recorded 320 deaths, meaning more deaths have been recorded in the past month — coinciding with the festive season — than in the previous nine months since the first Covid-19 case was recorded.

Moyo died four years after his appointment by Mugabe’s successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, to the foreign affairs portfolio. The European Union’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, tweeted that Zimbabwe had lost a “great foreign affairs minister” and a “great interlocutor”.

“While we had a fair share of differences of views and opinions, I always valued our frank, open and good-humored exchanges. We could always tackle even difficult issues head on. I will miss those exchanges,” tweeted Olkkonen. “I was very touched last year when he sent a personal letter of condolences when my own father passed away.”

In his condolence message, Mnangagwa said that the government had “relied on him” to repair frosty relations with the West. Moyo was in line to one day succeed the president.

Potential successor 

“SB [Moyo] was viewed by some as a potential successor to ED [Mnangagwa], considering his education, military background and liberation war credentials,” said political analyst Ricky Mukonza. “His prominent role in the demise of the Mugabe regime and the ushering [in] of the ED one was there for all to see. This put him in good stead in as far as Zanu-PF and national politics is concerned. His occupation of a key and elitist portfolio of foreign affairs was an added advantage. His relatively young age also was another factor,” said Mukonza.

Sibusiso “SB” Moyo was born in 1960 in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province. He abandoned school in 1977 while in form three to join the liberation struggle.

After independence in 1980 he went into the army and also pursued his education. He earned a PhD in international relations, a master’s in business administration and a master’s in international relations.

In the early 1990s, he commanded a unit of Zimbabwean soldiers deployed to Mozambique during that country’s civil war. He was also involved in Zimbabwe’s war campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he said he helped to persuade a young Joseph Kabila to take power after the death of his father, president Laurent Kabila.

On the same day that Moyo died, Fadzayi Mahere, the spokesperson of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, said she had tested positive for Covid-19 after coming out of remand prison. She is awaiting trial on charges of allegedly spreading false information through a Twitter post.

The MDC says its officials are facing political persecution and risk contracting Covid-19 while in prison.

The virus is also ravaging Zimbabwe’s neighbours. Last week, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera decreed three days of national mourning after two members of his cabinet — local government minister Lingson Belekenyama and transport minister Muhammad Sidik Mia — succumbed to Covid-19 on the same day.

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Kudzai Mashininga
Kudzai Mashininga

Mashininga is an experienced Zimbabwean journalist.

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