Corona lockdown heightens tension  . . . as Mnangagwa moves to diffuse the strain  

©️ PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa had to step in yesterday to ease rising tensions in the country over the ongoing national coronavirus lockdown — moving to allow vegetable traders to continue selling their produce during the current shutdown, the Daily News reports.


This came after police confiscated agricultural produce in Mutare and also fought running battles with jaywalkers and vegetable vendors in Harare’s Kuwadzana 4 high density suburb — after they resisted orders not to breach physical distancing regulations.


It also came after the global total number of people infected with the lethal disease shot past the one million mark yesterday, with nearly 56 000 others having tragically succumbed to the pandemic.


In a bid to quell the rising local tensions over the ongoing national lockdown, Mnangagwa moved swiftly to allow farmers and other agricultural produce traders to continue with their businesses despite the lockdown — which enters day six today.


When the president initially announced the 21-day lockdown on March 27, he had left the question of this group of traders open-ended — leaving police and ordinary people wondering what the exact official position was.


However, in the aftermath of the brouhaha caused by the police’s raid on hordes of vegetable vendors in Mutare yesterday, as well as the skirmishes in Harare, Mnangagwa moved with speed to clarify the confusion.


“Farmers must continue to produce for our nation even under conditions of lockdown.
“Farmers and traders alike must equally continue to deliver produce to markets, including to those markets that supply our cities, towns and growth points.
“To that end, I direct our security arms to ensure a pathway for food supply. All agriculture activity must remain undisturbed throughout the period of the lockdown,” Mnangagwa said.
“All our producers must continue to feed our nation with minimum hustles,” he added, while also paying tribute to the public for having generally heeded the lockdown to date.
Earlier, police and municipal health officers had made a pre-dawn raid at the popular Sakubva market in Mutare — where an estimated 300 farmers and vendors had brought their produce for trading, but were forced to flee, leaving behind tonnes of tomatoes, green vegetables and onions.
This triggered a huge public uproar which saw human rights groups slamming the government for having “disregard” for poor people.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Tavhiringwa Kakova confirmed to the Daily News that they had destroyed the vegetables that had been left behind by the fleeing farmers and vendors.


“We did not confiscate the vegetables, but we had to destroy them with the aid of the City Health Department after their owners abandoned them … otherwise it is not illegal to sell vegetables.


“We don’t want people to gather while doing their business. That is what we wanted to ensure when we moved in,” he said.


Reacting to all this, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) criticised the government and the police for “failing to execute the lockdown measures fairly”.
“The informal sector food markets must be re-organised, supported and opened to ensure food security in the suburbs.
“If big corporates including mines are getting exemptions, then these essential services must be allowed to provide cheap food items and convenience.
“A lockdown in Zimbabwe is clearly for the poor only, and business as usual for the rich and big corporates.
“It is no longer a fight against Covid19 in Zimbabwe but a fight against the people,” ZCTU president Peter Mutasa said.
In Harare, police were accused of firing teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered at Kuwadzana 4 Shopping Centre.
Vegetable vendors, who had initially abandoned their trade at the start of the lockdown on Monday, were also back in full force at the centre.
According to eyewitnesses, when police tried to order the closure of a local butchery and also disperse the vendors, the crowd resisted, leading to the firing of teargas.
Residents also told a Daily News crew that the police were allegedly not permitting them to buy basics at the shops.
“The police are patrolling the suburb and they have literally camped at all the busy shopping centres here, to make sure that people comply with the lockdown rules.
“But in reality, police are terrorising people on a daily basis since Monday, as they are forcing people to stay at home.
“They used teargas on us today (yesterday) and forcibly dispersed vendors who had set up their stalls,” said an irate local resident Susan.
But national police spokesperson Paul Nyathi refuted the claims that police had fired teargas at the residents.
“I have spoken to the Harare province commanding officer. He said they never received any reports of tear smoke in Kuwadzana,” he said.
Instead, Nyathi blamed the worsening public indiscipline regarding the lockdown for the chaos, which he said saw nearly 400 people being arrested around the country yesterday alone.
“Police arrested 390 people yesterday for failing to observe the lockdown measures. This brings the total number of people arrested for violating the lockdown to 875.
“The people were arrested for operating shebeens, public drinking, disorderly conduct and committing various traffic offences,” Nyathi told the Daily News.
In Bulawayo, civil society organisations warned that police officers were exposing themselves and suspects to Covid-19 because of a lack of social distancing when they acted against the public.
This was after police had rounded up non-complying citizens and taken them to various police stations in the city, where they were slapped with fines ranging between $200 and $500.


“As health officials, we encourage people to stick to the lockdown measures.
“We are also advising police officers to practice social distancing of at least two metres when rounding up suspects, so that they do not expose themselves and suspects to the virus.


“At a minimum, police officers should wear masks to avoid contracting the virus and becoming Covid-19 patients at some point,” Solwayo Ngwenya, a health activist, said.
As part of enforcing compliance, the government instituted a further new law earlier this week that criminalises the gathering of two or more people — except in special circumstances.


Statutory Instrument (SI) 83 of 2020, which operationalises the current lockdown, also criminalises the hoarding of medical supplies needed for coronavirus
Any gathering of more than two people is prohibited — unless people are at a funeral or waiting for public transport.
Even under these two exemptions, the number of people should not exceed 50.
Outside of this, people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential goods and services, including going to shops to buy food or visiting pharmacies for medication, and going to fuel stations.
SI 83 also says if anyone is caught, and refuses to return immediately to his or her home, or has no home, such people would be treated as having escaped from a place of detention, isolation or quarantine.
It also says those found guilty of hoarding medical supplies needed to combat Covid-19 and food will either be jailed for a year or pay a fine.
Severe contraventions will attract both a jail term and a fine.
Zimbabwe recorded its first coronavirus death last month after television personality Zororo Makamba — who was the youngest son of telecommunications tycoon and former legendary broadcaster James Makamba — died at Wilkins Hospital, after being diagnosed with the lethal virus.




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