By Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD)
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has wreaked havoc in all spheres of society the world over. Globally, COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths have risen to 15 012 731 with 619 150 respectively as of 23 July 2020, World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Africa, the cumulative cases as of 24 July 2020 stood at 642,737 with 3602 new confirmed cases and 10 807 deaths (WHO). South Africa, Zimbabwe’s neighbour, hosts the bulk of the cumulative confirmed cases in Africa pegged at 394,948. It has a 61.45% proportion of confirmed cases over the total in Africa (WHO).
As of 24 July 2020, Zimbabwe had 2,124 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths. Zimbabwe declared the COVID-19 crisis a “national disaster” on Friday, 27 March 2020 and implemented a nationwide lockdown on 30 March, which was initially supposed to last 21 days but was extended indefinitely on 16 May to date.
A raft of strict lockdown measures was announced by President Mnangagwa on 21 July 2020 including a dusk-to-dawn curfew, all non-working people are required to stay at home except for purposes of securing food, water, and health services, reduction of operating hours for businesses from 8 am to 3 pm from the usual 4:30 pm with the exception of essential services providers and banning of public gatherings for social, religious or political purposes with a limited number of people allowed to attend funerals. In addition, ZUPCO is the only operator licensed to provide public transport to the generality of the public.
Whilst it is commendable that the government has implemented lockdown measures to safeguard lives, it is crucial for the government to do so with the necessary social protection measures to ensure that the poor, vulnerable and marginalised groups in society like women and children, youths, the elderly and disabled are taken into consideration. The business operating hours from 8am to 3pm have severely affected informal traders, the majority who are women who heavily rely on purchases made by workers as they make their way home from work.
Already, incidences of the confiscation of informal traders wares and goods in high-density suburbs who opened shops before the scheduled time of 8 am have occurred, pushing informal traders into destitution at a time when disposable incomes are shrinking amidst company closures, a hyperinflationary environment and exponential price hikes which have placed basic commodities out of the reach of many. Stringent lockdown measures have left families hungry and desperate.
Women have borne the brunt of the effects of lockdown restrictions as they are caregivers for children, the sick, and the elderly. They are the last line of defence in family care and support. Unfortunately, the new lockdown measures do not come with new social safety nets targeted at women and the vulnerable.
The Mid-Term Budget presented by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mthuli Ncube, indicated that US$202.6 million were pledged by development partners in the fight against COVID-19. The Budget does not outline the amount that has been received from the total pledges. While it highlights that US$26.9million was disbursed, there is lack of transparency with regards to the beneficiaries of cushioning funds disbursed by government since the advent of the coronavirus and implementation of lockdown measures.
In view of the extended lockdown, ZIMCODD calls for government to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of COVID-19 funds. It should ensure that COVID-19 relief funds reach the intended beneficiaries targeting women, children, youths, the elderly, disabled and vulnerable men in society. Social protection measures such as provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and cash relief funds to cushion vulnerable households and citizens must be put in place. The COVID-19 informal sector relief fund must be gender sensitive and it must be increased to cater for more traders whose businesses have been affected by the pandemic.
ZIMCODD calls for the government to ensure that it safeguards livelihoods in the process of protecting people from the COVID-19 pandemic. ZIMCODD’s call for social and economic justice extends to the government to ensure that it does not criminalise livelihoods. People that are going about doing their day to day business to earn a living in an honest way that does not endanger themselves or others should be allowed to do so.
Since the pronouncement of the extended intensive lockdown, there has been criminalisation of movements from one point to another regardless of the circumstances. The security forces are arbitrarily restricting movements even when people are seeking essential services. There is a need to revisit the issue of curfews which has posed a mammoth challenge to people who are using public transport to and from work.
The ZUPCO buses, the sole public transport operators are in short supply and they have no capacity to carry the passengers and the workforce from the Central Business District. ZIMCODD calls for the government to provide for a sufficient public transportation system to ensure that the curfew is meaningfully implemented without hurting the citizens it is seeking to protect.
There must be a balance between protection mechanisms and safeguarding the citizens so that their human rights enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe are not infringed such as the right to food and water (section 77), the right to free movement (section 66) rights of women (section 80), rights of children (Section 81), rights of the elderly (section 82 and rights of persons with disabilities (section 83). Videos circulating on social media of residents “toyi toying” to get home amidst scarcity of transport and the enforced curfew, should be unheard of in the “New Dispensation”, which has pledged to ensure that the ethos of democratic governance is enjoyed by every Zimbabwean.
COVID-19 has sharpened inequalities and increased the gap between the poor and rich and ZIMCODD calls on the government to increase its social spending to reduce poverty and inequality.