…Mutare civic society appeal to Government
CIVIC society groups in Mutare have called on Government to take the COVID-19 seriously by consulting them for buy-in on the best pro-poor approach to combat the spread of the epidemic in the country.
This follows the recent back and forth pronouncements by Government on measures enforced during the incumbent COVID-19 shutdown, which exposes confusion on its part. Last week Friday police in Mutare raided and reportedly confiscated three tonnes of vegetables from farmers and vendors at Sakubva Produce Market. Mutare City Council officers in conjunction with police went on to burn the confiscated produce. Police on the same day again imposed a sudden ban on the sale of alcohol, only to make a U-turn the following day correcting the wrong turn by saying alcohol sales would be allowed only in retail outlets, but restricted consumption to private homes.
This U-turn came after President Emmerson Mnangagwa immediately intervened on the misunderstanding in a televised address last week Friday evening: “It’s integral that we keep our economy moving forward during this period of lockdown. Food supply should be guaranteed with minimum shocks or disruptions. Farmers must continue to produce for our nation even under conditions of lockdown. Farmers and traders alike must equally continue to deliver produce to markets including to those markets that supply our cities, towns and growth points,” said the country’s Head of State.
The civic society groups said this is not the first time that the police has been accused of misjudging laws and taking extreme measures. President Mnangagwa had included food markets as part of the ‘essential services’ that would remain operational during the lockdown, of which open vegetable markets are considered to be part of the food market range. It was a clear case of misinterpretation of the decree by authorities, especially the police which was blamed for failing to have a human face of protecting and serving, preferring to always be ‘state controlled’ machinery that deals with socio-economic and livelihood cases with sjamboks.
Manicaland Covid-19 Taskforce chairperson, who is also the resident Minister of Manicaland Province, Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba on Tuesday following the national address by the President described the incident as unfortunate and said all the affected farmers and vendors would be compensated for their loss through the $600 million facility expected to cover one million vulnerable households under a cash transfer programme for the next three months. On Tuesday vegetable markets countrywide were reopened in adherence to the instruction by the President.
United Mutare Residents and Rate Payers Trust (UMRRT) programmes manager Edson Dube said the biggest challenge has always been lack of public consultation by Government for the people’s buy-in. He said when it is done it is often ‘ceremonial’ as Government often wants to enforce populist policies on the general population, which he said doesn’t work. The residents trust activist said it is a known fact that many Zimbabweans eke a living in the Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and informal sector, living from hand to mouth but sadly government enforces draconian measures without pro-poor thoughts hoping for miracles. “The gap between the current leadership and the residents is very huge. Once one is elected into public office they deliberately distance themselves from the electorate so that they become less accountable and transparent on their day to day execution of duties. For the elected leaders, corruption becomes a way of life as they seem to be trying to make hay while the sun still shines at the expense of the communities they purport to serve,” said Dube.
Dube added,”This heinous tendency has resulted in lack of appreciation of local realities by the leadership, which is usually reflected in poor policies that do not address the day to day needs of the electorate. It’s a shame! Personal gains become more important than the needs of those whom one is representing. Feedback meetings are important, consultations and selflessness are basic ingredients that should be taken up without compromise to create a true leader.”
Dube said all that Zimbabweans want is survival. “Zimbabweans are peace loving people, so their approach will never be a confrontational one unless cornered. In the Sakubva Produce Market case the people only wanted to ensue survival and fend for their families, and they based their move on their personal interpretation of the mesure that had left food markets as an essential service. Vegetables are perishable and imagine farmers watching their produce rot. This would have had repel effects not only on the farmers but the nations especially now when our borders are closed and we cannot import food products easily,” said
A renowned Mutare based civic society activist Lynette Mudehwe said President Mnangagwa should take a leaf from his South Africa counterpart President Cyril Ramaphosa who on Wednesday suspended his Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules.
President Ramaphosa placed Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave for two months – one month of which will be unpaid. The Communications Minister had been summoned by President Ramaphosa on Tuesday after her photo of having a meal with a former cabinet colleague went viral on social media.
“This shows seriousness by the Head of State which sends a stern message to the populace, not what is done back home. President Ramaphosa asked his Minister to deliver a public apology to the nation and in his communique told the nation that the lockdown calls for absolute compliance on the part of all South Africans. He said his members of the National Executive carry a special responsibility in setting an example to South Africans, who are having to make great sacrifices, which is why he had to set the bar and use her as an example. No one should be above the law. On the contrary, in Zimbabwe at first it was Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (Minister of Defence, Security and War Veterans) who made reckless statements in public about the coronavirus and now the law enforcement, but they are let go unscathed. Heads should role when misinterpretation of the law is done,” said Mudehwe.
She added that Government must stop the delays and release assistance to vulnerable households in urban areas and educate people more on the virus and measures being taken, especially on tracing
“Information lessens resistence and increases cooperation…Our copycat government has been flip-flopping on lockdown measures showing confusion. With our highly informal economy in Zimbabwe, without providing food hampers to the vulnerable households and poor during the lockdown it is impossible to keep people confined in their homes, but the cash-22 is staying home this is the only way to combat the virus whilst systems are being put in place,” Mudehwe said.
Founder and executive director of Mhakwe Heritage Foundation Trust, David Mutambirwa said government should be hands-on and not reactionary. “There is a total dislocation between implementing arms of government, policy makers and the executive. So they end up doing firefighting rather than a clear plan of action which is founded on informed active participation by all the relevant stakeholders for sustainable development,” said the Mhakwe Heritage Foundation Trust founder, an advocacy organization on heritage and culture preservation, research and documentation.
Mutambirwa added that the shutdown yesterday (Thursday) on Day 11 was now half way through the 21-days lockdown but nothing has been delivered to cushion the vulnerable people as promised, which shows poor implementation rapport by the Government. “The tragedy of our leadership is that they are intoxicated by corruption. History continues to repeat itself as they are slow to react and we can rule out a repeat of what happened in Chimanimani after the cyclone Idai, where the goods intended for the affected community ended up being misappropriated and there was manipulation for political hegemony to the detriment of the vulnerable communities,” said Mutambirwa.
Mutare Mayor Blessing Tandi told Easterntimeszim that as a local authority they had understood the instructions to leave food markets open, but were forced to give in because of their partners in the joint operations with the law enforcement.
“I am against the report that we ‘climbed down’ being insinuated in some media. From the onset the Presidential declaration left essential services open and we had classified our vegetable markets, especially Sakubva Produce Market, as one of the essentials. We had left them out, but there was a misinterpretation of law from our partners which are members of the provincial JOC (Joint Operations Command) in trying to enforce order, which led to the closure of the vegetable markets. So, I want it on record that as a local authority we never climbed down on the initial measures by the President as reported by some media… As we speak now, through our local vendor associations, we are actually in the process of looking for ways to enforce social distancing and decongesting measures at the vegetable markets to help combat the spread of the virus,” said Mayor Tandi in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
On the otherhand, in Mutare the number of people coming into town has been increasing by the day this week, especially on Wednesday and yesterday (Thursday). This could have been triggered by the directive from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe on Monday that allowed money transfer agencies (MTAs) to open three times a week with effect from Wednesday, but banks remained closed for any other transactions. This definitely drew the attention of money changers who were evidently back on the streets but operating from their cars, waiting for clients that would be collecting money from the MTAs.
The RBZ statement stipulated that the decision was meant “to allow for the receipt of foreign currency remittances which cannot be transacted on any digital platform.” The MTAs shall be open for business from Tuesday to Thursday, between 0900 and 1500hrs.
Easterntimeszim in a snap survey of retail outlets, butcheries and fast food outlets in the central business district in Mutare also noticed that there was also slackening in wearing of protective wear by some frontline employees. Some said the face marks are uncomfortable, whilst some said their employers would have given them one face mask, which will no longer be as effective after days of constant use, so they would have discarded them. However, this reporter can generally outline that the relaxed nature by people in the city can mostly be attributed to the confidence people have from knowing that there are no official COVID-19 positive cases confirmed yet in the province. People tend to be reactionary when it its home, and this has been the problem worldwide, which led to the lethal spread of the virus.
So far in Zimbabwe, the COVID-19 epidemic has claimed two lives with 11 confirmed cases as of yesterday (Thursday). Globally, the death toll from COVID-19 has now passed 90 000 according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University yesterday, while the number of infections have risen above 1.5 million. The rate of testing and tracking COVID-19 follow up cases has been slow and remains a ticking-timebomb that most people fear will end up being a lethal spread like what is happening in Italy and America at the moment.