ZIMBABWE began its lockdown yesterday following the outbreak of the virulent coronavirus (COVID-19), which has ravaged some countries, with China, Italy, Spain, France and the United States accounting for the highest numbers of fatalities and infections.
In Africa, several countries implemented lockdowns, but these were well thought-out in that the governments ensured that the poor and other vulnerable members of society were well taken care of during the lockdown, getting cash pay outs and food hand-outs in some cases.
While we commend President Emmerson Mnangagwa for proclaiming the lockdown as part of measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe, our concern is that the move may further impoverish vulnerable groups.
The majority of Zimbabweans are now earning a living in the informal sector, and for the majority, it is just hand to mouth. These draw their sustenance and livelihoods from the informal sector. This lockdown, though necessary from the public health front given the threat posed by COVID-19, should have provided safety nets for these vulnerable groups.
For them, the lockdown is like a death knell because while they will be protected from potential infection, they will be exposed to hunger and death as they are not able to earn a living during this period.
There has been no announcement on an economic plan to cushion the ordinary citizen as yet. Although other countries have already dealt with that, we have not heard of similar plans from our own government, which has not offered any package to assist those that need cushioning.
It is, indeed, critical for government to have a fund for a time as this, but in a country like Zimbabwe, where leaders are more concerned with lining their own pockets than the welfare of ordinary citizens, this may be asking for far too much.
But the COVID-19 outbreak should be a lesson for the future. The Department of Social Welfare, which may have been tasked with such a duty, is also struggling to assist those that currently need a helping hand even without any natural disaster. But what has happened shows it needs capacitation.
It will, however, remain impossible to achieve this as long as individuals with political connections are allowed to continue stealing from the coffers of the country, whose resources should be sufficient enough to build a war chest to be used in times like these.
If the situation remains as is for the next week or so, it won’t be surprising to see these vulnerable members of our society breaking the lockdown in search of food and other amenities. If they had the means, they could have stocked up like their peers ahead of the lockdown.