On these cold winter morning when the temperatures are down into single digits and thick white mist conceals dips and valleys, Zimbabweans aren’t snuggled up warm in their beds but are out looking for water. Boreholes with hand pumps, wells with ropes or murky shallow pools in what’s left of our urban wetlands have become the new gathering places these early mornings. Buckets, cans, twenty litre containers, wheelbarrows and trolleys are the tools of the dawn brigade and these days whole families are involved, including countless school children who aren’t at school and don’t have any books or guidelines from government, schools or teachers on what they should be doing 74 days into Covid lockdown. The online learning revolution is just a strange term to hundreds of thousands of kids without computers or internet access here while they struggle home with buckets of water and arms getting longer with every step.
Once the water is secured it’s food that everyone’s looking for. In the last fortnight a box of 100 tea bags has gone from Z$59 to Z$159; a loaf of bread from Z$40 to Z$69 and supplies of sugar and maize meal have disappeared altogether. A litre of fuel has increased from Z$21 to Z$29 and the queues stretch for kilometres as yet again the supply chain has been choked. As I write the official exchange rate is 25 Zimbabwe dollars to one US dollar but on the black market it’s 81 to one.
And so, while our days are filled with the grinding struggle just to survive, most people can’t pay attention to what’s really going on in Zimbabwe behind the thick mist of our “indefinite Covid lockdown.” Here are some of the latest obscenities:
The three MDC women who were abducted from a police station, tortured, sexually abused and dumped on the roadside after they protested about the degree of hunger in the country, have been arrested, accused of lying about being tortured by police. This week nine UN special rapporteurs called for Zimbabwe to drop the earlier charges against the women (holding a protest during Covid lockdown) and stop the pattern of disappearances and torture in the country saying there were 49 cases of abduction and torture in Zimbabwe last year. Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister said the “fake abductions” were being coordinated with some foreign embassies and that authorities would tackle those spreading a “medley of falsehoods”.
Last week’s Independent newspaper revealed that lieutenant-colonels, colonels and brigadier-generals are among officers who benefitted from the recent acquisition of “top of the range” vehicles worth millions of US dollars. One military source told the newspaper: “What is worth noting is that brigadier generals received Toyota Land Cruisers and those who are retiring at the age of 60 were given the option to buy their old vehicles at a token price.” The Independent wrote that the last time this happened, a year ago, “old” vehicles were valued at Z$500, the equivalent of less than US$10. That new luxury vehicles are again being purchased at a time when the government is begging for US$200 million from the World Bank and IMF to mitigate the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic is just beyond words.
Last week the Zanu PF MP for Murehwa West pleaded in parliament that legislators be allowed to get medical treatment outside Zimbabwe: “On a point of privilege, Madam Speaker, we have noted that MPs are not feeling well and some of them are not even coming to work because their medical aid is no longer functional,” the MP said; “Is it not possible to work out something so that they can go outside the country to get treated as MPs?” That an MP would plead to be allowed to go out of the country for treatment when his own constituents, the very people who voted him into office, can’t even afford their blood pressure pills, insulin or heart pills is obscene. Perhaps the MP doesn’t know that one single injection for prostate cancer, widespread in Zimbabwe, is today priced at Z$30,400. (US$380)
There are many other things going on behind the mist of lockdown in Zimbabwe including frightening reports about conditions in Covid 19 quarantine centres: one meal a day, people beaten if they complain, inadequate facilities, bribes to get test results and worrying rates of infection in the centres. Then came a surprising press conference by the Minister of Home Affairs denying that a coup was about to happen in the country. And then, perhaps the biggest shadow in the mist, is the unfolding scandal of what people are calling Covid-Gate relating to the procurement of Covid Rapid Test Kits with links to “dubious foreign registered companies”; hugely inflated prices of Covid 19 medicinal and surgical supplies and links to “political elites.” Transparency International (Zimbabwe) say that ”prices of these goods are highly inflated, indicating a risk of corrupt practices that have been observed during the pandemic.”