Life for youth under Zimbabwe’s lockdown

Countries worldwide have been going into lockdowns to minimise a blowout of this fast spreading lethal virus known as Covid-19 or Coronavirus that has left the world on its knees and facing an uncertain future. The President of Zimbabwe after addressing the nation and setting out the rules that were going to govern the lockdown on March 27, 2020, Zimbabwe went straight into a 21-day lockdown, which commenced on March 30, 2020. The lockdown announcement was met with erratic responses from the citizens including young people. Some were heeding and others disregarding the call citing many different reasons. At day two of the lockdown, some young people were already finding it difficult to stay at home, others were complaining about not having running water, no electricity, some had no data to watch their favourite movies or be on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Young people in many parts of the country have met the first seven days of the lockdown in Zimbabwe with mixed feeling and reactions. There is no denying that this global pandemic has disrupted people’s everyday lives including that of young people and has brought in serious implications to their lives. The country’s healthcare system, which is already in doldrums, has been over-stretched. The educational institutions from primary, secondary and tertiary have been forced to close and some of students especially in tertiary institutions have resorted to online or e-learning. Such measures are commendable but what about a young person who comes from a poor family or marginalised areas who cannot afford to buy data or access internet? What will happen to the future of his/her studies?

“As a medical student, the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the lockdown has really set us back in a very significant way, we had to close the medical school for safety reasons and we now have a lot of rotation and we will have to cover up for the lost time. A year might be added to our program and it is a very huge problem because there is already a back log in the UZ medical school,” noted a medical student in one of the tertiary institutions in Zimbabwe.

She went on to highlight that, learning is still ongoing via online classes, but e-learning is proving to be a challenge as most students do not have access to the internet at their homes. “This is a time and opportunity for the government to change the way of doing things in the academic arena. More technologies, friendly methods of education delivery should be employed in the education system” she added.

For some students in tertiary institutions staying at home with their parents and guardians has not been an easy task, since they were used to having their freedom, with no curfew and other restrictions. “Staying with my parents for these first seven of the lockdown days has been hell for me and I cannot imagine spending the next 14 days under the same roof with them. I have become their house cleaner. I just wish and pray that this Covid-19 madness will come to an end, so that I can go back to school and enjoy my freedom,” fumed a female student. This brings an interesting dynamic to gender roles in households and how young women are facing various barriers to focus on their studies.

For some young people, the lockdown has given them time to read widely and extensively. “I was hearing about the Constitutional Amendment Number 2 Bill and its implications to young people from friends. However, I took it upon myself during this lockdown to go through this Bill, clause by clause and noting the key points or issues that will affect us as young people like the proposed introduction of ten Youth seats in Parliament. I have been sharing this important information about this Bill with my friends using different social media platforms. I know that the public hearings for this Bill were put on hold because of the outbreak of Coronavirus, but as soon as the new dates are announced, I am going to attend and give my input,” noted Tafirei Takaedza from Gweru.

Young people’s livelihoods and sources of income have not been spared in this crisis, as it poses enormous challenges to the highly informalized economy where most citizens make a living through selling anything and everything on the streets pavements in the Central Business Centre (CBD) and in the dusty streets in high density suburbs. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2019 report states that, Zimbabwe has the world’s second largest informal economy after Bolivia. The lockdown may have now entered its second week in Zimbabwe, but the majority of young people are frustrated. They are already struggling to make ends meet and to fend for their families, so it appears as if the stress of the lock-down is over-taking the stress of the virus. “We are ruined already as a country, what more harm can the coronavirus do? In Zimbabwe, the majority we are choosing daily survival strategies over measures to protect ourselves from a virus that “might not even kill us. It is better to get coronavirus while hustling for money that to sit home and die from hunger. I survive on hand-to-mouth, what do you want me to do?” asked a young woman who is into informal trading.

Some young people from Bulawayo in the informal sector highlighted that the lockdown was a retrogressive order that could leave them in a poorer state as they survive from hand to mouth. “The lockdown has really hurt us, I sell vegetables and my business depends on the numbers of people who come to buy every day. I need to be in the streets so that I do not go hungry, I do not even know how l am going to survive in the remaining days of the lockdown and the future is uncertain as we do not even know what will happen after 21 days of this lockdown,” said Sithembiso Dube from Magwegwe North.

In high density suburbs like Mbare, Kambuzuma, Mufakose in Harare, and Nkulumane, Magwegwe, Entumbane in Bulawayo it is business as usual as the message of “social distancing” seems to be falling on deaf ears. The daily needs in Zimbabwe have made social distancing an elusive deal. Social distancing is pushed aside in the struggle to get food especially mealie meal in supermarkets, gas, and clean water especially from the boreholes and wells. “If the taps in our houses had running water, we would not be here, swarming the well and boreholes like bees on a beehive or flies on sewage. We are busy exchanging coronavirus here sneezing, coughing and spitting saliva at each other” said an 18 year old young woman from Mabvuku Tafara in Harare.

Another young person from Mkoba 14 in Gweru echoed similar sentiments and expressed fears over her ability to survive the remaining days of the lockdown. “It’s the lockdown period and we are supposed to be in our houses, but how can we stay at home when there is no mealiemeal at home. At the end of the day, we have families to take care of. We are asking the government to increase the number of mealie-meal bags in high density suburbs so as to avoid people getting into town,” he said.

The Statutory Instrument 77 of 2020 “Public Healthy (Covid-19) Prevention, Containment and Treatment) Regulations, 2020 clearly outlines the objectives of these regulations so as to enable the implementation of measures to prevent, contain and treat the incidence of Covid-19. However, this lockdown has also seen the gross violation of human rights by some enforcement officers including the Police and the Army personnel, which is not in line with SI77 of 2020.

Young people note with great concern how they are being beaten up, harassed, humiliated and even arrested which is a violation of their rights as humans and as the citizens during this lockdown in Zimbabwe. “Was there any prior briefing to enforcement officers on the amount of force that has to be used? Whose responsibility is it to teach the security sector on human rights? This is coming from the harassment and arrest we face from the Zimbabwe Republic Policy and the army?”. Asked a concerned youth from Dzivarasekwa. “The government should see to it that the enforcement officers have protective clothing like the face masks and gloves so that they do not pass on the virus to the civilians,” added.

However, other young people bemoaned government’s lack of preparedness and its misplaced priorities in dealing with the outbreak of this virus. “The government saw this coming; imagine we are now being punished with this lockdown that could have been prevented way back. This virus broke out in China in December 2019 only to get to Africa and Zimbabwe between February and March. Our government had to wait for this virus to get into the country for it to take action. The government should have taken measures in time in preventing the outbreak and probably should have been involved in disaster preparedness, management and recovery,” fumed a young man from Mandara in Harare.

With so many myths and misconceptions around Covid-19, young people do not have correct and adequate information about this virus that has upended their lives and they continue to be misinformed, leaving them at the mercy of clairvoyants and peddlers of gossip. Too much information and misinformation may cause panic and stress even depression. “I have never left my home since day one of the lockdown because the news and 24/7 updates on corona virus which we have been getting through social media have made me anxious. Truly speaking, I am afraid of this deadly virus, so I have been staying at home and sanitizing my hands more frequently,” noted another young women the leafy suburb of Glenlorne in Harare.

“For me I had welcomed the lockdown idea but as young people we do not have enough and correct information about Coronavirus, how it spreads, how we can prevent it and there are no efforts by the government to explain or shed more light on these things to the public. I had to spend the first two days of this lockdown exposing myself to too much sun because I got that information from a whatsapp group that you cannot catch Covid-19 in a sunny or hot weather. If there is too much misinformation and myths about this virus, it means the responsible authorities are on holiday and are not doing their duty of informing or educating the citizens,” noted an young person from Mucheke D in Masvingo.

This is a clear indication that there is an information gap that is widening and more needs to be done in terms of educating and informing the public and communities about Coronavirus. The government, private sector, Civil Society, political parties, the church community and citizens need to come up together as a united force and raise enough awareness on this virus. People from the grassroots communities must be updated on developments around this outbreak and these explanations need to be made in their vernacular languages. This is the time for community radio stations and newspapers to empower communities through information and knowledge dissemination on Covid-19 in vernacular languages to help the people to remain safe and protected in their communities. This is also the time for young people to use social media wisely in informing their peers about Covid-19 and not to spread fake news. Safety nets for young people with small businesses should be prioritised during this lockdown and social protection strategies for immediate and long-term relief should be established among informal workers post covid-19.

As the popular adage states, prevention is better than cure. Confinement and the lockdown are for the greater good. Let us stay at home and innovate solutions that can help our communities survive this phase of covid-19.

Source: Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT)