Announcing the national lockdown to contain the novel coronavirus last week, President Mnangagwa made a profound appeal for unity and sacrifice.
“The new restrictive routines must be internalised by all of us, regardless of positions in society,” he said.
In the face of such an existential crisis, this call for unity is relevant in Zimbabwe, and for humanity itself.
Earlier this month, the UK Guardian columnist Toby Ord wrote that humanity will triumph against the coronavirus.
In making his point, Ord said the idea of a pandemic so severe that it could cause the end of civilisation, or even humanity itself, evokes science fiction. Such a risk to humanity is called an existential risk.
In Ord’s view, coronavirus does not pose such a risk, but there is absolutely no room for complacency given the lives it has so far claimed.
It is an undeniable fact that the coronavirus has stretched, to unthinkable limits, humanity’s capacity to fight for its very survival.
Faced with a cataclysmic pandemic, the world has come together to fight this unconventional “enemy” of a virus that has no respect for colour, creed, political affiliation, ethnicity or geographical boundaries.
While the virus continues to pose serious threat to humanity, it has also brought out the best amongst us.
Heart-warming reports of elderly people voluntarily giving ventilators to younger patients reveal unmatched selflessness and sacrifice.
In Zimbabwe, the message from President Mnangagwa has been crystal clear; all of us face one enemy, one which we can defeat together.
To make this happen, tough decisions had to be made, such as staying in-doors for the next 21 days to contain the spread of the virus.
Judging by the situation that prevailed in most towns and cities yesterday, Zimbabweans from their diverse backgrounds seem to have taken heed of the President’s decree.
While some in our midst had initially thought that the pandemic offered them an opportunity to grandstand, wisdom soon prevailed as they realised that this was no time for playing to the gallery.
It was therefore laudable of the MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa to issue a statement supporting President Mnangagwa’s call for a lockdown for 21 days.
This is what should happen especially when it comes to national issues that threaten our own security and survival as a nation. It does not help anyone to be perennially truculent. This disease has no respect for political affiliation.
Beyond politics, we are one people bound together by the same geographical space and shared experiences. In fact, beyond politics, we are one big, close-knit family.
Coronavirus has indeed proved right the enduring applicability of the African axiom, “I am because we are”.
We are weaker and vulnerable as individuals, but stronger together.
While it is difficult to predict in numbers the final toll, there is no doubt that thousands would have died by the time we defeat the virus.
The devastating nature of this virus has proven to all that our advances in medicine are never sufficient to avert new pandemics.
Words of Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author and science populiser must be taken seriously: “Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology — but, more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without becoming commensurate wise.
“The world altering technology that the technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.”
This is one area in which unity is needed.
Zimbabwe, and the world, needs all the skills it has to plan for the impact of coronavirus, and to prepare for future pandemics.
We need to balance science and our sense of humanity. We cannot wait until a threat strikes before acting.
We must be proactive in using science to deal with any future threat that threaten our very own existence.
Just as we have survived past pandemics, we will again triumph against this virus.
The very fact that this virus has its genesis in human action, means that it will also take human action to defeat it.
As President Mnangagwa himself said as he announced the lockdown, this is a challenge that will require unity and sacrifice. Indeed, we need unity to defeat this virus, because disunity would be counterproductive.
As a united front, international coordination and cooperation in public health will help us protect ourselves from pandemics.
The long-term solution is not shutting ourselves out from the outside world.
We must invest in public health so that we do not become overwhelmed by such outbreaks.
Threats to humanity and how we address the threats will ultimately define our time.
We must never be complacent in facing up existential risks, and neither must we be divided against common enemies.