COVID-19 pandemic rolls over existing deep crises in Zimbabwe

The first Zimbabwean to die from novel coronavirus infection was Zororo Makamba, on March 23. He was a prominent young man who was recovering from a lung operation. He had contracted the virus in New York. Since then another Zimbabwean has died. Makamba’s family account of his last days demonstrates how totally unprepared Zimbabwe is for the pandemic. Zororo was sent to the Wilkins Infectious Disease Hospital, but his family found that it had no ventilator, its oxygen supply ran out, it had no running water. The family found a privately-owned ventilator but found that the hospital had no power. They had to source oxygen from the Harare City Council. The stark reality is that the claimed refurbishment of the Wilkins facility is another PR spin. The Zimbabwe medical community is desperately calling for a total lockdown and urgent supply of equipment and medicines. These are only arriving now thanks to the huge donation of test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma to all of Africa. Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s doctors and nurses have gone on strike rather than face the virus without adequate protection.

Just prior to the national emergency declared for COVID-19, on March 17, the issues of chronic inflation, high unemployment and very low wages were still centre stage. The Mnangagwa government admitted that inflation in 2019 was 560 per cent. The foreign exchange trading system in Zimbabwe was liberalised and the official rate for US$1 fell from 18 to 24. The black market rate was 41. The fight against corruption took a heavy hit when the state case against former Minister Ignatius Chombo collapsed because a vital document had disappeared, but advance in the case against the Chief Executive of the state-owned NetOne telecommunications company. Zimbabwe’s diplomatic efforts to re-join the Commonwealth have failed, and the US and Europe are resisting any rescue package until more positive reforms are apparent.

One piece of good news was that very heavy rains across southern Africa are starting to fill the Kariba Dam and that should change the equation for electricity supply.

The people of Zimbabwe, like people all around the world, will respond as a community to defend against the COVID-19 pandemic. But like hundreds of millions of people in poor countries, they urgently need the active intervention of the World Health Organisation, coordinating a generous health rescue package, which has started with Jack Ma. This pandemic will transform the politics in Zimbabwe as it will around the world, and every opportunity for democratic reform and economic recovery must be grasped as the wave of the pandemic proceeds in the next six to twelve months.

Zimbabwe Information Centre, Australia
March 27, 2020