Workers, vendors cringe over lockdown extension

THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa have berated President Emmerson Mnangagwa for extending the national lockdown by a further two weeks without putting in place measures to cushion ordinary citizens surviving on hand to mouth.

BY BRENNA MATENDERE

Mnangagwa on Sunday announced an extension of his 21-day national lockdown, claiming the country has not met the bare minimum conditions prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be able to lift the lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the deadly virus.

Zimbabwe’s lockdown will now end on May 3.

However, ZCTU president Peter Mutasa yesterday said Mnangagwa ought to have announced strong safety nets for poverty-stricken citizens so that they do not starve during the lockdown.

“We acknowledge that the President was walking on a tight rope,” Mutasa said.

“There was need to balance safety and health of citizens on one side and the economy on the other side. It was never going to be easy. We are therefore happy that he chose to follow medical experts’ advice especially WHO’s guidance and prioritised health over economic factors.

“However, although we think the extension was unavoidable, we expected the President to be clear on a number of issues that make the lockdown bearable and effective.”

South Africa, Rwanda and many other countries across the globe have been providing social safety nets for citizens whose incomes were affected by the lockdown. Other countries, South Africa included, gave packages to companies to cushion them from collapse.

Zimbabwe, which relies on a street market, is still processing a cushion of $200 (US$5) per family to vulnerable groups. The process has been marred by secrecy on who benefits, with reports of politicisation where Zanu PF supporters are allegedly being prioritised.

Mutasa added: “People are starving in homes, we therefore expected him to be elaborate on social assistance especially criteria and allocations per household. The $200 cushion allowance from government is inadequate.”

He also said Mnangagwa should have announced a moratorium on termination of employment contracts as well as guaranteeing income security for all workers.

“Again, he ought to have pronounced measures of assisting ailing businesses which are genuinely not able to pay salaries, bank loans, rentals and other operational costs in order to protect jobs. Special assistance should also be targeted at SMEs and informal traders.

“By now, stakeholders should have an indication of how the government intends to address post-lockdown economic recovery. This builds confidence and reduces anxiety.”

Mutasa said Mnangagwa should also have addressed the issue of price increases on basic commodities while basic services such as electricity and water should have been provided for free.

The opening of the mining industry, Mutasa said, was also of concern as the sector is susceptible to respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumoconiosis, making the workers more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.

There was also need, Mutasa said, to first establish health and safety protocols in manufacturing companies before lifting restrictions on the sector. He said the issue of public transport should have been addressed for the safety of the workers.

Chalton Hwende, the MDC secretary-general said needy people ought to be assisted by government during the extended lockdown.

“We expect the government to increase the number of tests that are being conducted, they also must increase the social welfare grants to the vulnerable members of our community who will now obviously struggle put food on the table,” he said.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu also pointed out that measures to cushion the general citizenry announced by Mnangagwa were too weak and warned this would backfire on him.

“While this (lockdown) may help in slowing the rate of infection, the decision worsens an already bad economic situation moreso among vulnerable groups in the informal sector,” he said.

“The leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place in the sense that people may survive COVID-19, but not hunger. A social welfare net is needed and government must pool all its resources to ensure that vulnerable people do not die of hunger. Overally, Zimbabwe’s economy will sink into a deeper and darker hole in 2020. This may further raise socio-political tensions.”

Sten Zvorwadza, chairperson of the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) said his members had been condemned to starvation by the extended lockdown period.

“The extension of the lockdown is a good preventative measure against coronavirus but it is also an ultimate final nail on the coffins of the majority of vendors who have no incomes to buy at least one meal per day for their families,” Zvorwadza said.

“Government is failing to do the simple thing of availing support to the hunger-stricken vendors locked in homes.

They have the resources, whatever they have, should be given to those intended. According to the assessment done, informal workers are at high risk of starvation during the lockdown period because they work from hand to mouth on a daily basis”.

He said it was naive for government to just impose a further two-week lockdown without consulting the affected workers through their respective organisations on the impact suffered so far during the 21-day lockdown period.

He said the situation was going to be worse for the vendors after the lockdown after the destruction of vending stalls by the Ministry of Local Government.

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