ZIMBABWEANS yesterday endured their first day of the national lockdown in the wake of the deadly coronavirus without potable water in most cities and towns, while others were forced out of their houses to queue for mealie-meal in shops within their vicinity.
BY Moses Matenga
Harare’s central business district and the most popular markets in Mbare remained closed yesterday as police enforced the lockdown, ordering those who had ventured into the city and market places to return home.
Vendors said they would likely collectively lose millions of dollars during the shutdown.
It was a similar situation in Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Karoi, Marondera, Mvurwi, Masvingo, Gweru and Bindura, among other areas NewsDay visited.
There was no activity usually characterised with Mupedzanhamo market and Mbare Musika, with a handful of people who wanted to test the waters being forced back home by police officers.
In Chikanga Phase 2 in Mutare, some vendors defied the directive and opened their market stalls.
As of yesterday, only the Zimbabwe Republic Police and municipal police officers were manning roadblocks with no sight of the military personnel as yet.
However, the officers were without protective clothing, not even masks as required by the health authorities in the war against COVID-19, which had claimed more than 36 938 lives, while over 770 039 infections have been confirmed in at least 177 countries and territories by 9pm last night.
Zimbabwe has seven confirmed cases and one death, but fears abound that local transmission might spike.
Defiant motorists were turned back in the absence of justification of their business in the central business district, where only a few shops opened while a number remained shut.
Residents in Harare complained that they were forced to spend the better part of their first of the 21-day lockdown without potable water, exposing them to waterborne diseases.
The Combined Harare Residents Association has since filed an urgent application to compel government and the city council to ensure provision of the precious liquid.
Failure to provide potable water, the residents said, was exposing them to waterborne diseases like cholera, which claimed more than 5 000 people in 2008.
Retailers also hiked prices of basic commodities, capitalising on people’s desperation and panic-buying.
In Glen Norah, some retailers were clandestinely selling their wares two to four times the normal price, with a loaf of bread going for $50 up from $30, while an egg was at $6, up from $3.
The Zimbabwean economy is in the hands of informal traders who, however, have been rendered “jobless” by the 21-day lockdown.
In Highfield, some traders only accepted the United States dollar as the only mode of payment, prejudicing consumers who wanted to purchase using other alternatives.
A 2kg packet of sugar was priced between US$2 to US$4, while a 2-litre bottle of cooking oil was going for between US$4 and US$6 at Machipisa.
In Karoi, Mashonaland West province, residents challenged government to provide basic commodities, including mealie-meal, cooking oil, salt and relish, which have been in short supply due to the lockdown.
A random survey conducted around Karoi revealed that many people, including civil servants, were caught unaware by Mnangagwa’s proclamation.
Mnangagwa only gave two days’ notice for the lockdown, sending many into panic mode.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum also said Mnangagwa did not give people adequate time to prepare for the lockdown, a situation they said had caused serious challenges to the informal sector in the country.
“It was not realistic in allowing citizens ample time to make necessary arrangements in preparing for the national lockdown. This is largely because of our unique circumstances as a nation where indisputably the level of unemployment is high and the majority of citizens live from hand to mouth, largely dependent on informal trading,” the Forum said in a statement.
“With the incessant shortages of basic commodities such as mealie-meal, meal, fuel, water, electricity and cash, one would have expected the government to provide safety nets for vulnerable groups and outline practical measures on how these challenges will be ameliorated during the national lockdown. Sadly, the directive and the subsequent order by the Minister of Health inappropriately presupposes that every citizen has the means to access food, clean water and all other essentials during this period. Although the government has announced that distribution of food aid will continue, with more distribution points being established to minimise large gatherings and that grain and monetary payments are being made to 760 000 households throughout the country, it is not clear how this measure will respond to the peculiar needs of citizens adversely affected by the national lockdown.
“This undoubtedly will cause a lot of distress and plunge many into poor health as a result of serious food shortages. In order to prevent the national lockdown from becoming a nightmare for citizens whose livelihood is already a struggle, we call upon the government to come up with practical measures in alleviating these challenges so that the lockdown will not cause more problems on an already impoverished and struggling citizenry than the solutions it seeks to achieve.”
Celebration Church founder Tom Deuschle said the lockdown placed the poor in an untenable situation.
“They do not have the luxury of quarantine, they live with five others in one room. Many live from hand to mouth.
Who will keep track of the deaths of those who die of starvation? Is the cure worse than the disease?” he asked
Bulawayo’s central business district was totally deserted yesterday, but the situation was different altogether in the suburbs, where people were in the hunt for mealie-meal.
Police mounted roadblocks on major roads leading into the city centre and many were turned away after failing to produce “permits” proving their reasons for leaving their homes.
Entumbane complex was one of the centres flooded, with scores of people looking for mealie-meal which has become very scarce of late and where it found its way to the black market, it was being sold for $250 for a 10kg packet.
Michael Ndiweni, executive director of the Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association, said it was difficult for people to stay at home without food, hence government should have done something.
The same “hunt” for mealie-meal was reported in Matabeleland North and South provinces where shops remained closed but with people queuing in anticipation.
The Lupane Residents and Ratepayers Association urged locals to heed the 21-day lockdown, but in the same vein calling on government to ensure a steady supply of mealie-meal.
Karoi’s central business district was deserted with a few people buying groceries at some retail shops that were open. In Chikangwe high-density suburb, some grocery shops were forced to close by police early in the morning.
There were no taxis or public transporters moving around.
The local clinic had only one nurse on duty, while the pharmacy was opened.
The majority of people stayed indoors as police continued with their vigil moving around streets until late afternoon.
Reports from Beitbridge indicate that the border town, usually a hive of activity, was deserted yesterday.
Many residents in urban Beitbridge went out in search of mealie-meal.
A handful of clearing agents were at work, where the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and Department of Immigration maintained skeletal staff.
A snap survey by NewsDay also reviewed that there was little information on COVID-19 in kombis that has seen many being exposed to the pandemic that has killed many globally.
In farms around Harare, it remained business as usual without adherence to social distancing and sanitising measures, further risking the population to the pandemic.