Breaking Covid-19 rules in Zimbabwe can get you a year in jail

A health worker wears a protective suit during a demonstration of preparations for coronavirus cases at a hospital in Harare on March 5. A Zimbabwean journalist who had travelled to the US and Tanzania is the country's first Covid-19 fatality.
A health worker wears a protective suit during a demonstration of preparations for coronavirus cases at a hospital in Harare on March 5. A Zimbabwean journalist who had travelled to the US and Tanzania is the country's first Covid-19 fatality.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa has enacted a law that allows the arrest of people who defy his Covid-19 lockdown measures, but the public seems unfazed.

Under statutory instrument (SI) 77 of 2020, those who are found in crowds of more than 50 people will be arrested and jailed for up to a year. The figure was reduced from 100 after Zimbabwe registered its first Covid-19 death, which lead to the president issuing a state of the nation address on Monday night.

Zororo Makamba, 30, a broadcast journalist and son of prominent telecommunications businessman James Makamba, who is also a Zanu-PF member, died on Monday morning at Wilkings Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare.

His death sent shock waves across the country, considering he's from a well-off family by local standards and can afford the best health care money can buy.

By midday on Tuesday, however, people in Zimbabwe’s two major cities, Harare and Bulawayo, were going about their business as usual. Long queues for mealie meal and fuel and at banks were still there, while supermarkets and restaurants, like other small businesses, remained open. The traffic was relatively normal.

Stanley Dube, a shop manager, told TimesLIVE that adhering to the president’s laws was like a death sentence in waiting.

“People think we don’t take Covid-19 seriously, that’s why we are still in the streets. What they ignore is that we have two options: die of Covid-19 or face starvation. So we would rather take our chances with the disease while we sanitise, because not all of us have money to stay home for months,” he said.

“We can’t even afford to eat regularly in this economy, so stocking is out of the equation. In this life we have to keep working.” 

Meanwhile, Makamba family spokesperson Tawanda Makamba in an interview with the Daily News accused the government of lies and extortion, being ill-prepared for Covid-19 and disregarding life.

In a statement, the family claimed that Wilkins Hospital had no medication, water, ventilators or electricity for operating life-saving machinery.

They allege that health and childcare minister Obadiah Moyo ignored their direct pleas for the matter to be made a priority and instead suggested that they buy a ventilator for  $120,000 (R2.1m) and then donate it to the hospital. They also claimed they made a direct appeal to Mnangagwa and his wife but this amounted to nothing.

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