Lockdown: Poor people facing tough times ahead

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©️ THERE are fears that the 21-day national lockdown announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday night to fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the country could hit poor Zimbabweans very hard.

Experts and ordinary people who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said as necessary as the lockdown is — if Zimbabwe is to have any chance of mitigating the negative effects of the global pandemic — it would also be harsh on the majority of citizens, given that the country’s economy was highly informalised.

“I know that ED is trying to stop more people from dying from this disease, but I’m not sure that he and his ministers fully appreciate that our country’s economy is dead, and that most of us live from hand to mouth, selling sweets and bananas on the streets.

“In my case, I can never make enough money from my vending work to cover my family’s needs just for three days. So, and you tell me my friend, what am I going to do in the next three weeks to make sure that my wife and children can still eat and not die of hunger,” a Harare street vendor, Phineas, told the Daily News on Sunday resignedly.

“I don’t think that this lockdown was properly planned for. Just think about it, we have no water, no food, no money and have to queue for everything every day. How is this lockdown supposed to work in this climate, where we are not getting any help from the government,” Phineas’ friend and co-vendor, Moses, weighed in.

Another trader at the popular Mupedzanhamo market in the capital, Agnes, also told the Daily News on Sunday that it would have been better if the government had also announced that it would be helping poor people with food during the shutdown.

“What the government is asking me and my family to do is to choose between dying from corona or hunger, which is not really a choice.

“To be honest, I would rather die from corona quickly than watch my children die slowly and painfully from hunger. Do the chefs even know that we are not like South Africa where poor people get monthly government grants and other forms of help,” Agnes said.

Experts and analysts who also spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said the lockdown of an informalised economy, such as Zimbabwe’s, always presented challenges on a number of fronts.

Namibia-based political analyst, Admire Mare, was among those who said the biggest problem confronting the country in its fight against coronavirus was the fact that its economy was highly informalised.

“Given the informalised nature of our economy, a lockdown without adequate safety nets may result in running battles between vendors and law enforcement agencies, just like we have seen in places like Kampala, in Uganda.

“There is no denying that lockdown measures are necessary given the public health crisis we are dealing with. However selective copying and pasting of lockdown measures from other countries without complementary local measures and safety nets may lead to hunger-induced deaths and diseases,” Mare said.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers, Denford Mutashu, said the lockdown would have “serious consequences” on the country’s ailing economy.
“The lockdown has a huge bearing on business, although it is the best way to go under the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the government had no capacity to assist either businesses or ordinary people, due to the fact that Treasury was broke.

“This is a double whammy for Zimbabwe … the proverbial nightmare of being between a rock and a hard place. What government can do is to incentivise industry through tax breaks and if at all possible, also successfully negotiate for cheap funds from international financiers.

“The challenge with this is that our debt repayment record is poor. The sum total of this crisis is that Zimbabwe is sinking into even deeper trouble,” Mukundu told the Daily News on Sunday.

On Friday, Mnangagwa announced that the country would go on a 21-day total shutdown as part of efforts to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has so far killed one Zimbabwean.
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has welcomed the lockdown, saying it was “necessary, wise and supported”.

The lockdown comes as the number of people who have been infected by the virus in Zimbabwe continues to rise.

“Covid-19 is upon us and if experience elsewhere is anything to go by, it can spread in leaps and bounds in a short time. We are worried that even though our numbers remain low, there is a possibility of its wider spread in communities.

“Further, in a few months’ time, winter will be upon us, creating conditions ideal for more infections. We should, therefore, take measures ahead of the danger.
“Starting Monday 30 March, and subject to further review, Zimbabwe will be under a total lockdown for a period of 21 days,” Mnangagwa said while announcing the shutdown.

Meanwhile, chaos reigned supreme at most supermarkets, money transfer agencies and banks yesterday as many people who were caught unawares by the news of the imminent lockdown made last minute efforts to get money and buy goods.

A Daily News on Sunday crew found hordes of people queuing at banks and at international money transfer agents, as well as for various products that included mealie-meal, gas and fuel.

Basic consumer goods were also fast disappearing from the shelves, as many people were shopping in bulk — prompting some shops to limit the number and amount of products purchased by individuals.

“As much as I want to buy food that will last for the next 21 days, I cannot do that right now because all I can afford is meat and groceries that will probably take us five days only.

“The shutdown announcement was so sudden and it caught us unprepared to buy a lot of food at once,” said Sandra, who was among hundreds of people in a long and winding queue at a local pork food processing company.

At money transfer agencies, people also had to endure the frustration of having to brave serpentine queues and intermittent network disruptions.

“I’m here trying to collect money that my daughter sent from the diaspora, but they are saying there is no network. We are hoping that these international money transfer agents will be open even tomorrow because at this rate everyone cannot take their money before they close their doors,” one woman at a Western Union queue said.

 

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