Jestina Mukoko is the National Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an organization that monitors human rights violations, disseminating information on the human rights situation in Zumbabue. She is an experienced human rights and peace practitioner with exceptional skills in human rights monitoring, documentation and mediation. She was awarded the International Women of Courage Award in 2010. In 2019 she participated in the V edition of the Leadership Forum the Women for Africa organizes in collaboration with Yale University.
The pandemic that has wreaked havoc and affected people globally has been detected in Zimbabwe since March 2020 and the first death to the virus on March 23. Zimbabwe continues to record cases and recoveries.
Zimbabwe has been on 21day lockdown since March 30 subsequently two 14 day extensions. The corona virus exposed serious health inadequacies. With multi sectoral assistance health facilities have been revamped to respond to the pandemic. Of concern however, is non-coherence and lack of coordination, compounded by politicians taking centre stage rather than technocrats in the medical field. Politicians have taken advantage of the situation for their next election campaigns. Buckets containing disinfectants against the virus have been emblazoned with faces of politicians. Easing lockdown restrictions, the government has abdicated its responsibility of testing, handing over the responsibility to private companies.
The population has been affected significantly by the corona virus and efforts to prevent the spread like lockdown. Information on the virus is still to be understood in all parts of the country. Social distancing is still a remote practise. Most Zimbabweans are in the informal sector; a day away from the workplace is without income. Most women rely on cross border trade and with closed borders, their livelihood is suffering. Most lacked adequate food when the lockdown started therefore they could not stay at home. For most they would die of hunger if they stayed at home and if they went out risked contracting the virus. Most urban high density areas do not have running water. Hours are spent in long winding queues where it is impractical to practise social distancing.
E-classes are not available to all school children; some cannot access and data is beyond their reach. My team and I have been forced to work from home. It is stressful having been used to work face to face. We have cancelled community engagements and our beneficiaries are making countless calls on when we will resume.
It will take a very long time for life to return to normal. At the moment it has become mandatory to put on a face mask, whenever out of the home and operating hours of most places have been adjusted. Most recreation places are closed and gatherings are still not allowed, only people up to 50 can gather. Working from home I have to get used to online meetings with my team, which is also quite difficult because of connection challenges. Budgets have to be juggled as this much data had not been budgeted for. Working from home also means encroaching on the space of people who are ordinarily at home.
Most service providers namely health and funeral insurances have transformed their business models. To be admitted to hospital or taken to a funeral parlour the sick person or the body of the deceased have to be tested to prove they are not a positive case of the virus.
The cases for women is disconcerting, what is unsettling is the increase in cases of domestic violence. Most couples spend time in different places but with lockdown are thrust in the same space for hours where emotions flare as families try to balance lack of food and income. Most women are finding themselves having to work more hours as their husbands believe they should be ‘served’.
Maize meal used to make the thick porridge that is the staple food is scarce. Some of my team have expressed concern about the risk of contracting the disease when they join long queues for food and water.
It is going to be difficult to go back to work until there is assurance that the curve has been flattened. The requirement for companies to test their employees is not only expensive and beyond the reach of many companies, but could cause a lot of confusion. Government should manage the testing for quality and confidence building.