Covid-19 reveals what Zimbabwean nationalism means


On March 19, South Africa’s Minister of Public Works Patricia de Lille introduced 40km fence was to be erected on either side of the Beitbridge border submit with Zimbabwe. This was, she defined, to “make sure that no undocumented or contaminated individuals cross into the nation”. The rationale didn’t fairly add up as a result of Zimbabwe, formally, had just one case and, by March 19, South Africa already had 150 confirmed circumstances of individuals with the coronavirus. 

Referring to unlawful immigration at South Africa’s northern frontier, De Lille added, “On the border submit now, you’ve bought well being inspectors and also you’ve bought environmental professionals and they’re doing the testing and screening on the border. But when any person simply walks over the border, there are not any such amenities.” Despite the fact that, at first look, the logic of De Lille’s assertion appeared flawed, she was making a pertinent commentary. Zimbabwe is sick outfitted to deal with a disaster of the character that has introduced some governments in Europe almost to breaking level, and it appears cheap to suppose that among the individuals fleeing the dysfunctional nation will attempt to “leap” the border to entry the higher companies of their southern neighbour. 

It’s tough to consider one other nation, exterior of a conflict zone, extra sick ready for a pandemic of this scale. World Well being Organisation (WHO) authorities encourage individuals to “social distance” however it’s unimaginable in a rustic wherein queuing is an integral ritual of day by day life – motorists queue for gas and working-class individuals stand in lengthy traces at banks to get money, which has been in brief provide for years. A brand new merchandise Zimbabweans now should queue for is maize meal. On listening to sure grocery store has obtained a consignment, Zimbabweans instantly kind snaking queues. 

The WHO additionally advocates sustaining hygiene – washing palms continuously and utilizing hand sanitisers – however for most individuals in Harare that is merely not doable, even within the suburbs within the north. Mount Nice, Greystone Park, Vainona and different suburbs within the north haven’t had municipal water for years. A lot of the residents within the north are properly to do, so that they drilled boreholes. However it’s unimaginable to completely keep away from Zanu-PF’s failures. Boreholes require electrical energy, and Zimbabwe’s energy outages can final for as much as 19 hours a day, which implies water provide is intermittent. 

The scenario within the townships – Mabvuku, Tafara, Mbare and others – is even bleaker. The residents, despairing of town’s capability to ship water, merely dug up wells. A few of these wells are dug close to town’s ageing, damaged sewage pipes, leading to seepage of faecal matter into these water sources, with lethal outcomes: cholera and typhoid outbreaks are frequent.

As an nameless Zimbabwean public well being specialist mentioned to me, “How are bizarre individuals who don’t have entry to ample portions of water anticipated to clean their palms a number of instances a day? … The nation isn’t solely not ready. In addition they don’t need to be ready. There’s a large barrier between the medical doctors on the hospital and the Ministry of Well being due to the strike. So they don’t seem to be getting medical recommendation.” On the time of writing, medical workers had been on strike due to an absence of protecting gear and poor circumstances. 

Alone and scared

The nation’s ill-preparedness was proven within the first confirmed coronavirus dying of Zororo Makamba, a 30-year-old journalist, who’s believed to have contracted the virus whereas on a visit to New York. For days there have been tales of sick individuals, coughing, feverish and unable to get remedy due to the collapsed well being system, however the destiny of the younger journalist who comes from an elite Zimbabwean enterprise household laid this naked. His father, James Makamba, was a well-known broadcaster within the 1970s earlier than he reinvented himself as a businessperson after independence in 1980.   

Makamba had been in New York for about three weeks and on his return had a gentle flu. He went to his physician the place he was checked for Covid-19, however he confirmed no signs. After some days, the journalist, who had a tumour faraway from his left lung final yr, began growing a fever and his physician advisable that he go to hospital. He went to get examined at Wilkins Hospital, a public establishment for infectious ailments in Harare’s north-west suburbs. Some six hours after they’d taken samples from him, outcomes weren’t prepared and his physician was getting agitated. Nonetheless with out his outcomes, he was taken again dwelling.

When he was ultimately admitted, the household shortly realised the hospital had no ventilator, no medicine or different crucial tools. Tawanda Makamba, a household spokesperson, mentioned, “We then introduced the ventilator on Sunday by 2pm and once we bought right here, as a result of the moveable ventilator had an American plug, they informed us to get an adapter as a result of they solely had spherical sockets on the hospital. I then rushed to purchase an adapter and got here again, they usually by no means used it, and after I requested why they weren’t utilizing the ventilator, they mentioned they’d no sockets in his room. In order that they didn’t have medicine, ventilators and we introduced them a ventilator, they usually didn’t have sockets in his room. I informed them that I had an extension wire and pleaded with them to make use of the wire, however they refused.” 

Realising that Wilkins was unable to deal with him, the household requested for permission from the minister of well being to maneuver Makamba to a different establishment however when it was time for them to relocate the affected person, the minister had modified his thoughts. Earlier than lengthy, the proprietor of Borrowdale Trauma Centre, a non-public clinic within the north, known as them, proposing to arrange an intensive care unit for the affected person however given that they pay $120 000 (about R2-million) for the tools and repair.

There was a caveat. “He added that when Zororo finishes utilizing the tools and recovers, we needed to donate the tools to Wilkins Hospital. So mainly the hospital wished us to purchase the tools for them. We don’t have US$120 000, and it’s not our accountability to purchase tools for the federal government.” Earlier than lengthy, Zororo Makamba died. His closing hours had been a ugly ordeal. His grieving brother Tawanda mentioned, “Earlier than he died, he saved telling us that he was alone and scared and the workers was refusing to assist him to some extent the place he bought up and tried to stroll out, they usually had been attempting to restrain him.”

Nowhere to go

Enter Kuda Tagwireyi. Tagwireyi is a rich Zimbabwean with huge pursuits in banking, petroleum and mining (platinum, chrome and nickel). He’s the largest beneficiary of an annual US$1 billion (about R17 billion) authorities scheme referred to as Command Agriculture wherein the federal government – as an alternative of utilizing its personal bureaucrats and that of agricultural parastatals arrange within the Rhodesian period to purchase farm tools, seed, fertiliser and gas for farmers – subcontracts this profitable enterprise to Tagwireyi’s firm, Sakunda Holdings. Nobody believes that Tagwirei handles this large enterprise due to his experience, which is why some speculate that he fronts for a strong particular person. The title of this particular person is Emmerson Mnangagwa, the person who toppled Robert Mugabe within the November 2017 putsch.  

Despite the fact that Tagwirei is concerned in nearly each sector of the financial system wherein elites are making a living in Zimbabwe, it was initially tough to see how the coronavirus well being disaster may be one other alternative for him and his principals to have, utilizing British author Michela Flawed’s now traditional line, their “flip to eat”. Realising that flights to abroad medical resorts have been grounded and most international locations have shut down their borders anyway, they know that ought to any of the ageing elites contract the virus, it’s sure dying. There may be actually nowhere to go for remedy. Mugabe died in Singapore the place, for many years, he had obtained medical consideration. Final yr, the prime mover of the November coup and now the vice chairman Constantino Chiwenga was in China for months, present process remedy for some undisclosed sickness.

Parirenyatwa Hospital is, after all, not an choice for the elites. The hospital, previously a whites-only establishment referred to as Andrew Fleming, is positioned in Belgravia, subsequent to embassies and the workplaces of non-governmental organisations, within the coronary heart of Harare’s suburbia – tree-lined avenues, well-tended lawns and colonial-style homes in Cape Dutch and Victorian kinds. 

Its maternity ward is known as Mbuya Nehanda, in honour of the insurgent lady executed in April 1898 by British settlers for resisting colonial encroachment. Samuel Parirenyatwa himself was the colony’s first black medical physician and a number one nationalist. He educated on the College of the Witwtersrand in Johannesburg within the 1950s. Its eye clinic is known as Sekuru Kaguvi, after one other insurgent shaman who resisted imperialism. 

Within the names of this hospital and its affiliate clinics, there may be celebration of the top of the ancien régime, one wherein the proper to well being was linked to the color of 1’s pores and skin. But the hospital has turn out to be a metaphor for and warning of the pitfalls of Zimbabwean nationalism: inherit colonial establishments after which trash them. It’s not with out tragic and cyclic irony that the person who presided over the destruction of this hospital is Parirenyatwa’s personal son, David Parirenyatwa, additionally a physician like his dad, who, till Mugabe’s ousting, was the long-serving minister of well being. 

The Zanu-PF authorities has run it down a lot that it now could be, the truth is, an enormous marshalling yard, a pitstop, to the cemetery – a website the place necropolitics is performed out. Its medical doctors and medical workers are often on strike, as they’re now, there are not any medicine and well being tools is damaged and out of date. That, after all, doesn’t cease the hospital’s high administration from awarding itself perks. Earlier this yr, the hospital senior administration obtained new Land Rover off-road automobiles that price at the least R1-million. (I’ve seen an govt driving considered one of these automobiles).

So when this week Tagwirei introduced that his firm was injecting capital to resuscitate two mothballed, privately owned hospitals which might be envisaged to be operational by subsequent week, there was fast hypothesis and outrage that these two establishments had been to be reserved for Zanu-PF elites. The query is, why revive hospitals that haven’t labored for years as an alternative of simply setting apart sources for these which might be already operational and in determined want of assist?

Noticing the anger, the federal government backtracked, clarifying that these establishments wouldn’t be used solely by elites. Trauma Centre founder Vivek Solanki (the person who provided to arrange a R2-million intensive care unit at Wilkins for Makamba) informed the state day by day newspaper The Herald, “I’m a part of a group that’s establishing a number of centres across the nation to check and deal with coronavirus sufferers along side the Ministry of Well being and Little one Care.”

The Zanu-PF authorities’s destruction of state establishments may need caught up with it. For lengthy, it was doable for the elites to simply draw cash from the nationwide purse however not should take care of public establishments. They despatched their youngsters to universities in China, South Africa, Britain and the USA. They don’t obtain remedy at native hospitals. They purchase villas and mansions overseas. However the Covid-19 pandemic has shuttered entry to those overseas vistas. And now, they’re caught in Zimbabwe, with Zimbabweans who’ve had to make use of these establishments for years, with nowhere to show. 

The border fence De Lille is placing up, working contiguous to the mighty Limpopo River, is supposed for working-class Zimbabweans however OR Tambo Airport, the place elites routinely land to entry higher well being amenities in Johannesburg and additional afield, isn’t open to them both. 

The coronavirus may but show to be the good equaliser.

This text was first printed by New Frame