“People are saying it would be better to die of coronavirus than hunger.”
COVID-19 is striking Zimbabwe when it’s down. Roughly a year after being ravaged by Cyclone Idai and two years into a drought, Zimbabweans haven’t had time to recover between tragedies.
“COVID-19 comes when a number of situations are not very good for Zimbabwe. The economy is completely dysfunctional. This month, the inflation rate is about 600 percent. Health institutions are not working, and the doctors have been on strike for six months now. This crisis is a disaster for Zimbabwe,” says Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.
Food shortages in Zimbabwe make enforcing lockdown rules difficult. Riot police have been called in to control crowds in food markets. Kenneth Mtata explains that people want to comply with lockdown. “But 85 percent of the population is in informal employment. They can’t afford to miss work a single day. People are saying it would be better to die of coronavirus than hunger. This puts them in conflict with the state.”
In 1980, Zimbabwe was liberated from British rule and then endured the ruthless dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, who was president of the country from 1987 to 2017.
Having suffered decades of trauma and tragedy, and now facing a deadly virus, hope can be hard to come by. “We celebrate 40 years of independence in Zimbabwe [on April 18]. We don’t know if it’s a day of celebration or of mourning for the lost years,” says Mtata.
A Mission & Service partner, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches has always advocated for social cohesion, good governance, active citizenship, economic justice, and youth empowerment. Now, the needs are more urgent than ever.
“We are pushing the government to reengage doctors and nurses and to provide them with personal protective equipment,” says Mtata. “We have also been focusing on communication, encouraging people to take preventative measures. We are working to meet the needs of families who can’t afford to be in this lockdown situation.”
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