Stay Home – Or Feed Your Children: A Double Edged Sword – Covid-19 Update Bulawayo and Rural Matabeleland, 4-23 April 2020

Summary of Main Points

  • The lockdown was respected for the first week in Bulawayo, but highly localised activities have since resumed, including beer consumption, hair styling, all kinds of sales, without any meaningful physical distancing. This is seen as necessity, not defiance.
  • Forms of transport remain highly restricted, with only ZUPCO allowed to operate. This has not totally prevented urban movement: people simply walk into town using footpaths.
  • The terms of lockdown remain confusing and are being arbitrarily applied at times, depending on the idiosyncratic interpretation of police at any roadblock. There are glaring anomalies that may indicate corruption or cronyism – such as the widespread travel and harvesting of Mopani worms by those outside of Matabeleland, who seem able to travel long distances in private vehicles with impunity.
  • There were several instances of army beatings in Bulawayo in the week preceding the visit of Vice President Mohadi and others on 18 April, allegedly to check on the state of lockdown and to open Ekusileni Medical centre. Since then, army brutality seems to have eased.
  • There were widespread reports throughout the first 21 days of lockdown, of over congestion in subsidized maize meal queues; of corruption and hoarding of stock by retailing outlets who sold some stock and reserved the rest for the black market; of retailers selling disproportionate amounts to the police and army.
  • However, from 20 April, the availability of subsidized maize meal has been improved on the ground, since the introduction of new task force measures, which require various forms of proof of residence and have placed lists of who resides locally, with retailers.
  • Omalayitshas: the threat to informal sources of food and remittances. This very efficient system of getting groceries and foreign cash to rural areas is barely functioning since border closures:
    • Zimbabweans in RSA, who are often in hospitality, have put out desperate pleas for their own support and have no ability to remit now.
    • The closure of borders to the ‘double-cab omalayitshas’ means that rural stores and families are suffering stock shortages and escalating prices.
    • There are ever-greater shortages of foreign cash, which in rural areas of Matabeleland typically is hand delivered from RSA via the omalayitshas.
    • Those omalayitshas who own small commercial delivery trucks can get border travel permits if delivering essential goods to larger outlets in Bulawayo-urban.
  • Accessing remittance money is very difficult: in urban areas people start queueing at 3 am, and agencies often close early as they run out of foreign exchange.
  • Those who live in rural areas and have to catch public transport to get to their nearest remittance agency, simply cannot access their money, as the banning of all transport but ZUPCO effectively means NO transport through most rural villages now.
  • This lack of transportation within rural areas has created a drastic problem for many of those needing medication, including ARVs, as the clinic where they are registered may be up to 40 km away.
  • Grinding mills in rural areas are similarly affected by the lack of local transport, as they depend on small transport operators to bring canisters of fuel for their grinding mill engines.
  • Some rural food aid distribution has resumed, and agencies have found effective ways of respecting social distance, and educating donor recipients on Covid 19 at the same time.

Download full report here (3.4MB PDF)

Source: Ukuthula Trust