HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLessons from Cyclone Idai

Lessons from Cyclone Idai

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Just saying…: Paul Kaseke

After a bit of a hiatus, it’s good to be back. A lot has taken place since my last article, but it is befitting that this piece deals with Cyclone Idai, which has probably dominated headlines the most in recent weeks.

Let me start off by paying my condolences to the families and friends of the departed. While no farewell words were spoken and there was no time to say goodbye, they will never be forgotten.

A lot of lessons can be drawn from this tragedy, but in my view, one of the most positive lessons is that it has shown that Zimbabweans can come together without political agency, that is, without political parties.

The pouring in of support from all corners of the country and outside demonstrates that we can put aside our differences for a common cause.

No slogans were needed, no rallies were called for and no campaigning stirred up the hearts of Zimbabweans to unite across the political divide to lighten the load of those affected by contributing in cash and kind.

That it took death and such destruction to bring us together is, however, disappointing. I can only hope that as the nation pushes on, we are able to continue in the same spirit to rebuild our country.

On the downside, however, one must point out the flaws in government’s preparedness for the cyclone. The cyclone didn’t just appear from nowhere. There were advance warnings, but very little was done to mitigate its effects.

Factually, we now know that the cyclone’s damage and effects could not have been imagined, but that does not nullify the duty of the State to prepare for it.

Evacuations could and should have been done, planes should have been put on standby and a disaster fund set up before the cyclone hit. The loss of life could, in my view, have been avoided if such measures were effected. Supplies could have been gathered before hand, but alas, this was not the case.

Rather disappointingly, government has been playing a rather passive role in the relief efforts as far as contributions are concerned. The bulk of the relief assistance and aid has come from well wishers, civil society and other countries, but very little from our own government.

Government is expected to take a leading role instead, especially because it is obliged to do so in terms of the Constitution. Here are a few constitutional reasons why:
 The duty to enable every person to have access to shelter (s28 of the Constitution)

The State must take reasonable measures within its resources to enable access to shelter.

 The duty to provide basic health services (s29 of the Constitution)

The State must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic, accessible and adequate health services throughout the country. Unlike other duties, the duty here is not determined within the means of government.

The State has a mandatory positive obligation to ensure basic health services. Section 76 entitles all citizens and permanent residents to basic health care services.
 The duty to provide social welfare and care (s30 of the Constitution)

The State must take all practical measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to provide social security and social care to those who are in need.
 The duty to protect families (s25 of the Constitution)

Believe it or not, Zimbabwe is one of few countries in the world with a constitutional obligation on the State to look after the family.

The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must protect and foster the institution of the family and in particular must endeavour, within the limits of the resources available to it, to adopt measures for the provision of care and assistance to mothers, fathers and other family members who have charge of children.
 The duty to protect the elderly (s21 of the Constitution)

The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level are required to take reasonable measures, including legislative measures, to secure respect, support and protection for elderly persons. Inevitably, quite a number of our elderly citizens were affected by the cyclone and thus this duty becomes even more necessary to offset.
 The duty to protect children (s19 of the Constitution)

The State must always take into account the best interests of children but in addition to this it must ensure, within the limits of the resources available to it, that children have shelter and basic nutrition, healthcare and social services.

As one can see, there are a number of constitutional reasons why the State is required and mandated to take the lead in the relief efforts. Ordinarily, government assumes these responsibilities in any event, or at least it is required to.

The cyclone simply amplifies the urgency at which government should carry out its mandate. Interestingly, some sections of the State media referred to contributions made by government as donations, but this cannot be the case.

Government is not a self-funding entity. It is funded, chiefly, by the people of Zimbabwe, therefore, any contributions it makes are drawn from public funds. When government acts in such a capacity, government is doing what it is expected to do using the public purse.

There is no generosity there, it is doing what government ought to do. If anything, government should in future be able to organise assistance for such occurrences speedily and prepare a standby fund that kicks in for natural disasters.

On a more positive note, however, the deployment of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) to the affected areas in terms of s213 of the Constitution is a welcome development.

Reports coming in indicate that the ZDF has been outstanding in its service by helping with rescue efforts, food distribution, infrastructure repairs and other incidental matters. We applaud our troops for their service to the nation.

There will of course be those who are quick to dismiss this on the basis of recent acts by some sections of the ZDF, but we must be objective enough to applaud the good done by the collective in the same way we denounce the bad seemingly done by the collective. Their work in the affected areas is no doubt commendable and has made a difference.

The next few months and years will be years of rebuilding for the affected areas. It will take a lot to restore the affected areas to some sort of normalcy, but I hope this will again invite the same spirit of unity that will see us pulling together to help our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.

Let us continue giving in our own small ways and not get weary in doing good.

Perhaps as we grieve and mourn as a nation in the wake of the cyclone, it is appropriate to end this piece with this quote: “Those we love remain with us for love itself lives on, and cherished memories never fade because a loved one’s gone. Those we love can never be more than a thought apart. For as long there is a memory, they’ll live on in our hearts.”

 Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, policy analyst and former law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as senior managing partner and current group chair of AfriConsult Firm. He writes in his personal capacity.

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