By Josiah Mucharowana
As I write, the Zimbabwe media fraternity has just lost to cancer Gift Phiri, Assistant News Editor of The Daily News and another trailblazing journalist Ray Matikinye.
They were consummate professionals, giants whose contribution will forever be etched in the annals of history. They nurtured many in the Fourth Estate, laughed lots and had a way with words that is unforgettable. We are gutted!
Death has suddenly become an emotionally draining daily phenomenon globally. It is the statistics of the deceased that are horrifying and ghastly to contemplate.
Coronavirus rages on across the world taking down the high and mighty in it’s wake, there has never been a time when the entire globe has been this pensive, afraid and hopeless for the future.
It is a watershed moment everywhere we look.
Little known city of Wuhan in China has become infamous for allegedly setting off a pandemic that has reached even the most remote backwaters of the world. Scientists, doctors and clinicians of all manner are scurrying for new ideas to nip the tide.
Moreso, the medical personnel has become hesitant and afraid to practice the trade they so love for fear of being conduits of disease to their families when they go back home.
Hospitals are at the forefront dealing with the most raw and graphic scenes wrought by the virus. Health practitioners together with their patients understand the gravity of the situation better than any other. Once again, they have been thrown in the limelight and the world owes them gratitude for holding the forte.
World governments are working full steam ahead to try and manage the novel desease. Meeting after meeting with experts and decision makers are happening everywhere.
Each government to its own while benevolent ones like China, Russia and America are reaching out making donations to struggling societies.
Zimbabwe received US$470 000 through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to help in the fight against Coronavirus.
Many well-wishers including citizens in the diaspora are coming aboard with UK based Zimbabwean socialite Olinda Chapel donating 10 000 face masks to the cause. Strive Masiyiwa also donated a good number of the much sought-after ventilators. Many also are contributing refurbishing hospitals run down and dilapidated from years of decadence. Solar energy systems are being harnessed owing to erratic power supplies and boreholes are being sunk. It is commendable.
In South Africa, the rich including Patrice Motsepe, both the Openheimer and Ruppert families have dug deeper into their pockets aiding the state in this war.
Sadly, for Zimbabwe, the economy has shrunk so badly. Those who are fortunate to have flourishing businesses are only good at flaunting expensive all-white parties, Bentleys, Range Rovers on social media.
In fact, it has become so popular to parade material achievements so much so that it boggles the mind how only a handful can be privileged in a sea of poverty.
Internationally, at the time of writing, Covid -19 has over 163 000 deaths across 203 countries and territories. Over 609 505 have fully recovered from its jaws.
On the other hand, one would wish to be a fly on the wall in some world boardrooms. Leadership is being tested. Tempers are flaring hot. People and leadership consensus is a Herculean task to achieve.
Donald Trump of America is making quite a show during press briefings attacking journalists taking pot-shots at his leadership and management of coronavirus. He openly dislikes CNN labelling the news outfit as ‘fake’ with poor ratings all because of hard- hitting questions from reporters.
Not many leaders are passing with flying colours on steadying the ship in the face of the catastrophic virus.
Regionally in the SADC, South Africa has been buffeted the biggest with current figures at 3635 threshold of infections. 1055 cases have recovered with 65 confirmed deaths at the time of writing. This has passed been because it is home to millions approximately 59.1 million citizens by some counts. Also it is such a beehive of activity, a gateway to the continent that many would love to visit for lifestyle, work, study and business.
Covid-19, by its very nature is said to be spread from touching infected surfaces like plastic, stainless steel, cardboard lasting for periods over two days bearing the same potency to infect.It can also be spread as an aerosol with coughing droplets being able to infect a number of hours later.
But in the midst of all the chaos ie, shops closing, government business largely grinding to a halt, airport closures, rail suspensions and transborder barricades. Governments have run helter-skelter, some unsure of what to do.
Zimbabweean authorities working in cahoots with Sakunda holdings owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei, a Presidential Advisory Council member surreptitiously hijacked a hospital in uptown Harare formerly owned by incarcerated Munyaradzi Kereke to upgrade it into a Covid-19 care centre.
A public furore erupted as rumours abounded with insinuations indicating the centre would only cater for the elite.
Previously, top government officials would charter expensive jetliners charging thousands of forex per hour to seek medical care in the Far East. This time and in this war, most countries have closed off borders to foreigners, hence the move to seek salvation locally.
Infection numbers continue rising in some countries chillingly shooting through the roof. Italy, Spain, Iran, South Korea the figures of the dead are astounding. America tops the charts with 815 000 confirmed cases claiming a large chunk of those who have succumbed to the novel disease at over 45 000 deaths.
Each new day is met with dread and rising despair amongst the people. Who is next? Can we manage? Are governments doing enough? A raft of questions!
Initially C19 was mischeviously touted as a desease for the rich, the high- flyers who visit far flung shores of the world. The cheese and caviar elite! That soon turned out to be a myth. All and sundry can catch the deadly virus, fatally still.
From the Pope, President, parent, artist cascading down to even the most celebrated village clown. We are all exposed.
Already two notable African music stars, soukus supremo Arlus Mabele of Congo and Manu Dibango of Cameroon succumbed to the virus early in Europe, the alleged citadels of modern healthcare technologies.
It’s ample proof the battle is upon us and none is certain of the future.
However from all the information and falsehoods whizzing about, C19 is largely a behavioral disease. There is no vaccine as yet to contain it. Only immune boosters are being administered to stave off the virus. How we maintain our hygiene standards will determine who we become. Are we death statistics for the cemetery or heroes who will live to tell the tale?
In most countries, church gatherings have been banned. Crowds numbering a couple of dozens have been outlawed. Beerhalls, hotels, lodges have been instructed to either scale down operations or totally close shop.
Yet in Africa, we had President Magufuli of Tanzania encouraging people to gather and attend church as the source of comfort and salvation. He later backtracked watching the havoc coronavirus has caused.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also disheartenigly downplayed the impact of the disease at first saying it is a media construct, calling it a ‘ little flu’ with acres of media space and airtime dedicated to an otherwise low- key desease. What hogwash? He must have lived under a stone oblivious to circumstances unfolding globally.
China has since become a case study. Renowned for having a constitution of an ox, they surreptitiously built a mega, 10 000- bed hospital specially dedicated to the pandemic in record time. Infections had receded even though news point to an upsurge of new infections. Those that had been asymptomatic are showing signs of the disease. But largely China battled tooth and nail to contain numbers simply because the entire citizenry in their billion plus number adhered to government exhortations.
Earlier, Wuhan residents were seen in scenes celebrating for having suppressed the disease. They took responsibilities head on. A catalogue of measures was enforced that included staying indoors, maintenance of social distances, cleaning hands, maintaining hygiene, coughing into elbows, wear breathing masks and protective clothing when in public. These were measures the entire world had to cut and paste in their own countries.
Our behaviour as a people is under scrutiny. Is is upon everyone to take Covid-19 personal. It begins with ‘us’ like the late John Nkomo of Zimbabwe would say. None but ourselves can save this generation. We owe it upon ourselves to be proactive in combating the pandemic.
No amount of government spending will stem the tide. Most national coffers are stretched to breaking point. A state of emergency compels the President to suspend most rights and freedoms in the constitution and rule by decree.
In many instances, a decree is a dictatorship of sorts as shown by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who strongly intimated a lock down is not a time for Skop donor’ and Skit donor’, an emphasis of the gravity of the situation. He went on to highlight whoever was against a battery of regulatory measures was challenging the President and the state.
Zimbabwe followed suit announcing measures with the same velocity on citizens.
Last Sunday 19 April, the President Munangagwa extended the lockdown by two weeks after the initial 21 days lapsed.
But for Zimbabwe which previously had faced a rebellion by doctors and nurses threatening not to attend duty citing risky and unsuitable working conditions. It took the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to take government to the High Court for an order forcing government to back down to their demands. It also emerged testing kits donated mainly from China were faulty, inaccurate and let loose patients as asymptomatic- not showing signs of infection.
It was regrettable! It is macabre!
C-19 has wrought an expose on Zimbabwean healthcare shortcomings. There is just electioneering,sloganeering, political posturing and the whole time, the government shoots in the dark clueless as to how other administrations globally are tackling pertinent issues like healthcare.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care has since made a clarion call for all retrenched and unemployed nurses to register for work in the face of the pandemic.
Previously, thousands of nurses were laid off as an austerity measure to relieve pressure on the national fiscus.
The move only showed a reactionary government that, like a mechanical reaction only jolts into action after fiascos.
Zororo Makamba’ s demise was a canary in a coal mine, warning a catastrophe is imminent.
Additionally, it was an indictment on the entire leadership. How on earth can we afford such arrogance? Wilkins hospital before the Chinese- assisted refurbishment had been a shell, a shadow
of what it is was supposed to be- a bastion of vibrant healthcare. We had come to rever the institution albeit undeservedly. Covid-19 is a reality and many governments have been caught pants down.
Nonetheless, we are the salt of the earth as the Bible would indicate. Our behaviour as a generation determines the change that we want to see in the world. Each one of us is a brother’s keeper to liberate ourselves in the fight against coronavirus. And this here had been in memory of two journalists, Gift Phiri and Ray Matikinye who passed on when the world needed their skills. Go well comrades!
Josiah Mucharowana is a media graduate and writes in his personal capacity.
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