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Lockdown return must be tactfully and objectively done

By Joel Mandaza

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has hinted on the possibility that Zimbabwe may return to a stricter lockdown level.

Judging from history, this may mean that people will be confined to their homes with security forces presence increasing significantly to uphold adherence.

With the manner in which Covid-19 cases have been spiking, from a public health perspective this may not be too irrational.

Lockdown is a proven mitigation strategy; Zimbabwe has survived so far because of the first lockdown which was instituted.

There is a school of thought suggesting that people are getting complacent and the rising cases are the result.

Others are of the idea the move is to preempt a protest which is on the way.

Jacob Ngarivhume who has been the face of the impending mass action, has been meeting with activists, politicians and opinion leaders selling their vision to them and there has been buy-in.

Ngarivhume has promised to go ahead with his planned course of action even if the police refuses to give them a green light.

According to him, not even full-scale lockdown can stand in his way.

Sentiments from Government players, has betrayed panic, the police whose autonomy is nothing to write home about cannot be banked on to make decisions independent of the establishment.

Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe, who is the Minister in charge of police affairs has already declared that they will not allow the event to happen.

He was quoted in state media saying; “We are observing Covid-19 regulations and if anyone breaks the law they will be arrested because we are still under lockdown. Life is more important than everything else, life is more critical than anything that one can think of.”

Kazembe`s statement was immediately followed by another veiled threat by Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa with similar undertones.

This shows that a stricter application of lockdown is on the way, for one obvious reason or the other.

As we return to a lockdown, our Government should show that they learnt something in the initial lockdown.

Before anything drastic is announced, there should be money for social services support.

Last time people were sold a pie in the sky by the government as they were promised ZWL$200 when it was still US$6 and it depreciated to US$2 before it was disbursed.

Databases and their formulations should be guided by clarity.

During the first phase, the economy ended up being reopened without people receiving their promised payouts.

Authorities continued to move from pillar to post.
At one point, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said

The money was not sent until questions emerged around the government`s sincerity.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube then said they have a sophisticated algorithm they are using to pick beneficiaries of the Covid-19 relief fund.

Besides the two professors acting like snake salesman, to date, very few people –if they are there- have met those who benefitted from the said payouts.

Locking people indoors without providing social nets is as genocidal as folding hands as cases spike.

On enforcement of the stricter lockdown, there is need for transparency on the brief law enforcement officers get.

Last time, there were issues of human rights violations which were reported.

Police officers were beating people up, instead of utilising their reach to raise awareness.

There is also an arbitrary application of regulations. When President Mnangagwa allowed registered businesses to operate, those with paperwork struggled to reach work.

Police officers and military personnel were using opaque criteria in allowing and disallowing people to move around.
It had become an opportunity for them to extort money from desperate citizens seeking to get to their places of work.

It would be a travesty if law enforcement is allowed to disrespect citizens in the name of enforcing lockdown.

The state`s reaction to mass action should not be conflated with Covid-19 responses.

Zimbabwe is in a spot of bother, the little that remains of its economy can be described as a miracle.

Closing it arbitrarily may see a further slump of the economy, there already has been massive job losses.

Government needs to be methodical in the closure –if it comes- the decision making has to be informed by facts.

There has to be a clear plan of action from the time the lockdown is instituted to the time reopening happens.

Some sectors like tourism are reopening; they are in the middle of setting up structures to facilitate a return to their work.

Another lockdown, though necessary, will lock some companies out of business as they have incurred heavy losses already due to the pandemic.

A further delay of their recovery process will exert pressure on them.

Zimbabwe must not reinvent the wheel, there is need to draw lessons from countries that have already experienced spikes and how they handled the pressure.

From there we may be able to craft a response that speaks to our own context as people.

Hopefully, we will not witness political decision making being sold as a scientific response to Covid-19.

It would be fatal to both the economy and citizens. Get all COVID-19 statistics for Zimbabwe from COVID-TRACKER

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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