HomeOpinion & AnalysisStir The Pot : COVID-19: Race and class

Stir The Pot : COVID-19: Race and class


By Paidamoyo Muzulu

THE poor people have been called a lot of names. They are blamed for many things. When life becomes hard, they bear the brunt of it meekly. This has been proved true again by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by March 2020. It was the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere. The disease was a flu. It was spreading widely.

It is also the time that many rich people from the north come to Africa for a warmer climate. They travel and take up space at all the southern holiday spots.

At that moment, the first solution was to stop all flights. Africa lost the tourism dollars. Its economy contracted and her citizens took it hard.

The rich world created and implemented social safety nets. They got monetary allowances to keep them going.

They counted the days and hoped for a summer that was coming and hoped the infections would subsidise. And true, it did.

They had some form of relaxation of lockdown measures.

Rich countries poured billions of funds into pharmaceutical research. They developed COVID-19 vaccines in record time and hoarded the drug.

They vaccinated their citizens and reopened their economies. They got back to normal. They fill up the sports stadiums, cinema halls and travel to holiday resorts.

Boom, a new variant — Omicron comes to the scene. They ban flights to southern Africa.

They are still flying in the northern hemisphere and most likely they will celebrate Christmas.

Zimbabwe too had its own lockdown. The road borders were closed. Schools were closed.

Industry was generally on care and maintenance. Companies received bailouts and the poor workers had to contend with pay cuts and no meaningful social safety nets were put in place.

The rich had their schools open and the pupils could study online while the poor were holed up in their homes. The rich held parties breaking every COVID-19 regulations and got away with it.

Poor people from the ghetto were rounded up for breaking COVID-19 regulations.

The rich could fly in and out of Zimbabwe but the poor had road borders closed except for commercial cargo.

It is a fact that the rich made more money during COVID-19. They increased their fortunes. They could celebrate beating COVID-19 by flying to holiday resorts.

In fact, they had special facilities for isolation and treatment which ordinary citizens could not afford.

This week, in the face of the new COVID-19 variant, the government gazetted a new Statutory Instrument on COVID-19 regulations. Curfew times were moved to 9pm to 6am.

Those flying home for Christmas have to quarantine for 10 days at designated centres at their cost. They have to do this irrespective of a negative PCR test.

It is at the same time that two private schools closed as a measure to contain COVID-19 infections. This looked innocent until one starts looking at the issue through the lenses of class.

These are schools that are attended by the rich. They write Cambridge examinations. It is a fact that Cambridge exams are over. On the other hand, it is the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) examinations that are about to start. Anyway, they matter very little to them.

Did the cases of the new variant warrant the school closures? Or was it a perfect excuse for the former Group A schools to cut the school calendar, a position they had always argued for?

It seems they are rules for the rich and poor. Rules for those in power and for those without.

It is under the COVID-19 regulations that Zanu PF restructured its branches and districts. It is under the lockdown environment that President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed thousands at rallies.

It is the same period that the opposition was not allowed to gather in groups of more than 100.

It is the same period that Mnangagwa denied citizens the opportunity to elect their representatives. South Africa, with more deaths than any other country on the African continent, held by-elections and local government elections during the same period.

Malawi and Zambia also held national elections. It becomes obvious, the ban on by-elections in Zimbabwe was more political than scientific.

As the year comes to an end, Zimbabwe has been under lockdown for nearly two years. It has lost on production hours but ironically the Treasury says the economy registered growth.

How was this growth registered when 60% of the economy was closed? It could only be a result of smart algorithms at Treasury.

It is common cause that an average family in Zimbabwe is struggling. It is a fact that most people working are earning far below the poverty datum line.

And, it remains a fact that many Ordinary and Advanced Level students failed to pay  their Zimsec examination fees.

Zimbabwe is among the few nations with a dwindling middle class, yet at the same time the government is pursuing an upper-middle income status by 2030.

This goal would be reached not by merely looking at gross domestic product but it would be a reality that the gap between the rich and poor is growing by the day.

Zimbabwe is not far from replicating the South African story of the widest gap between the rich and poor. A situation that breeds instability.

The COVID-19 pandemic handling has further shone the light on race and class relations. The rich are smiling and would wish the pandemic would be prolonged as they entrench their power and accumulate wealth.

It is sad that the mishandling of the pandemic, the deployment of the one-size fits all solutions has created greater inequality, impoverished thousands and is breeding resentment towards the political and economic elite.

They will lie that COVID-19 was responsible for the mess. They will not accept it is their neo-liberal economics and racist/class ideologies. One thing remains, the pandemic revealed their real intentions — make the poor scream and pliable at any cost.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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