Painful lessons from our COVID-19 so far

Tapiwa Gomo

The confirmed number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases worldwide crossed the half a million mark last week and still going. The world’s biggest cities and towns are on lockdown; so are the biggest markets in the world on shutdown.

The world’s population is forced into hibernation as the sheer scale of the virus is both unnerving and unprecedent. Even some war mongers are laying down arms to pave way for the real war against COVID-19.

It is in this fast unfolding and confusing situation that we find one — Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who might be finding it hard to be herself in this situation. It was on March 14 that she uttered the unthinkable words when she stated that “coronavirus is the work of God punishing countries that imposed sanctions on us,” at a Zanu PF meeting in Chinhoyi. Little did she did know that as she was being reckless with words like that COVID-19 was already on our doorsteps.

Before she could wake up to that reality, two cases were already being reported with one of them succumbing to the raging virus – a moment that might have forced Muchinguri-Kashiri to swallow her words. Fumbling and political pandering runs in her party, anyway. It turned out that Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital was not ready after the Minister of Health, Obadiah Moyo assured the nation that we were prepared.

It is not only the speed at which the COVID-19 situation unfolded before our Defence minister and her comrades, but that it affected and hit high profiles right at one of the long neglected council clinics — the untouchables of the country’s political elite. The risk of the disease was and may still be lingering in her operational precinct given that the case that eventually succumbed had close links to the echelons of power. There is every reason to panic.

As if that was not enough, in no time, she was thrown into the deeper end when she was appointed a member of the national COVID-19 taskforce. She now appears on cameras wearing a mask. We can only hope that she has learnt her lessons that the people affected and those who have lost their lives across the world have nothing to do with sanctions on Zimbabwe. They are innocent people unfortunate to have been infected by the coronavirus. If she still possesses a sense of shame, this must be both a humbling and frightening moment of her life.

There are numerous lessons to draw from our Minister of Defence’s situation. We live in a global village and what affects one part of the world can easily and in no time hit another. Second, instead of commiserating with the thousands of people who have lost their loved ones, she saw it fit to mock and politicise a genuine global pandemic.

They say seka urema wafa; mangwana zvinokuwanawo (Don’t laugh at other’s misfortunes because the same can befall you).

Away from Mai Kashiri. The COVID-19 experience is so far teaching us that in a short space of time, we are all within a metre radius in each other’s space. This means that if we want to change the world, we must start by changing the one-metre radius around us. That way, development becomes all-inclusive and no one will be left behind. The reason poverty continues to deepen globally is because the rich want to be richer at the expense of the poor who are powerless to challenge the imbalances. COVID-19 has demonstrated that the rich-poor divide is an illusion that has been allowed to thrive – we are all equal and we need to work together to improve our standard of lives, if we are to be free from diseases such as coronavirus.

Linked to that, COVID-19 has further exposed the stupidity that has perennially infested African leadership – the gluttony that makes them steal from where they live and store their loot where they do not live with the idea that in case of trouble, they can jump out of the country and have all their problems solved.
COVID-19 nullified that in a flash. First, the nature of the disease makes it difficult to move patients around for fear of further spreading it to others. Second with most airports and airlines shut down, flying out of the country for medical reasons becomes almost impossible.

Third, the feeling of hopelessness knowing that one is a millionaire just across the border adds to the stress levels. Fourth, States are prioritising their own, leaving no space and time for those who plunder their national resources senselessly. Finally, this means that everyone — the rich and the poor- will be crammed in the public health institutions which were neglected by the political elite over the past four decades.

The key lesson here lies in the old adage; charity begins at home. I have always argued in this column that it is stupidity of the highest order to steal from your own country and save the looted resources in another country and still expect your situation back home to improve. There are countries that experience similar levels of corruption as Zimbabwe, but are by far better off because their politicians steal to invest in their own countries. Home is everything. It is incomprehensible why one would live in a country without access to clean water, no access to basic services, no good roads and no reliable electricity and yet they are billionaires elsewhere. There is something logically and mentally wrong with that.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.


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