The season of deaths

Source: The season of deaths – NewsDay Zimbabwe

THE eerie funeral wailing is loud, disturbing and most likely stays with one for the rest of their lives.

African funerals are full of the above. Pain of death is soothed by shedding a bucketful of tears.

However, the real grieving is long, sometimes sending one into depression and life upside down or a spiral into the abyss with no hope of coming back.

Zimbabwe is in the middle of a myriad of travails. The COVID-19 pandemic may not have so far killed dozens of people, but many surely will die in more than one way.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa on March 27 decreed the national lockdown to combat the ferocious COVID-19 epidemic, in many ways it signalled the death of a country more than the symbolic death of Zororo Makamba the first casualty of COVID-19.

Many poured their hearts out on social media, but the family and close friends never had time to decently mourn, grieve for him or send him to the other side of life in a dignified manner. Dignified in our African tradition.

Many families are wailing, grieving after their lives were killed by COVID-19 and the attendant economic collapse the lockdown has caused.

In one full swoop on independence weekend, many poor people who survived on informal trade had their livelihoods killed, sparking the silent wails in homes that will not be muted for good.

After the lockdown fatwa, many had not foreseen the death of informal trade in Mbare or any other high-density suburb.

The front-end loaders ploughing into the vending stalls heralded the deaths of many – poor working class.

In a blink of a moment, their sources of income were razed to the ground and most likely never to rise again in the short-to medium-term.

The stench of death from that action will be fully felt in the African summer heat after the lockdown.

Many will not be able to pay rentals at their lodgings, send their kids back to school for the second term and others will struggle to put a hot meal on the table.

This death cannot be quantified like the COVID-19 deaths. It is more than that. It is the death of a generation. A generation that will most likely never get a job to sustain its livelihoods or give hope to their children to dream of a future.

This informal category includes many in the public transport sector.

Many kombi drivers and their conductors after the lockdown will come to the realisation that their jobs ended the day the lockdown was proclaimed.

These are not the only casualties. Many thousands of people in the formal sector too are going to be laid off as struggling companies fail to absorb the losses of the COVID-19-induced lockdown.

It is not only the workers who suffer this anguish, but also some of the business owners will be left in deep debt and their companies liquidated.

These companies range from media, manufacturing, finance and banking, information technology and tourism sector, among others.

The new norm after lockdown will be a life of despair.

People will not be able to pick up the pieces.

The government will be watching hopelessly, waiting for capital to show the way as has been its clarion call since assuming power via a coup in November 2017.

The regime has no fiscal space to bail out the economy. It has an unsustainable public debt to gross domestic production of 135%. This is more than twice the regional average of 60%.

To further compound the woes, Zimbabwe is regarded a bad debtor by many international financial institutions and, therefore, cannot access any new lines of credit.

The country is at deep sea on its own on makeshift raft.

The sad economic scenario is the blank slate that Friedman economists were waiting for to introduce disaster capitalism.

A capitalism without a human face. A capitalism built on privatisation, deregulation of foreign exchange and limited government control on economics.

The crudest form of free market economics and profit is the only imperative.

The earliest signs of disaster capitalism are the privatisation of health services and education.

Private capital, Sakunda Holdings, has found its way into the health sector under the guise of helping tame the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, conglomerate behemoth Econet has carved itself market shares in financial sector (EcoCash), health sector (Maisha), cleaning services (Clean City), water provision and most of all the education sector.

In handing over the education sector to Econet, the Cabinet said: “Authorisation of an online education programme, Ruzivo Platform, by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to offer learning to pupils and ensure they do not regress while observing the COVID-19 lockdown.”

And Econet is smiling all the way to the bank. There was no consideration of the poor who cannot afford to purchase tablets or smartphones let alone have the means to buy data.

These are the silent deaths that no one talks about as the country fights COVID-19, the novel flue like epidemic that has brought the world somewhat to a standstill.

This is a funeral dirge to all these deaths that will occur, and a lot of healing is needed. The country needs a lot of financial and psychological healing or else the citizens will be scarred for good. What a death, the eerie wailing will be around for a while.

Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist and writes here in his personal capacity.