The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms Hilal Elver who recently completed an 11 day mission after an invitation was extended by the government from 18 to 28 November 2019, exposes the dire state of the economy which has resulted in acute food insecurity in Zimbabwe. Currently, many citizens are surviving on one meal a day and some have resorted to dehumanising means to obtain food for their families. In her preliminary report, the Special Rapporteur elaborated that “the most vulnerable segments of society, including the elderly, children and women, are forced to rely on early marriage, and sex trade to obtain food, behavioural patterns that often are accompanied by domestic violence, as coping mechanisms to mitigate the serious challenges they are facing. This kind of struggle for subsistence affects their physical wellbeing and self-respect. It creates behaviour and conditions that violate their most fundamental human rights.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report is a clarion call for the speedy address of the grim situation in Zimbabwe. She clearly articulated that women and children are mostly bearing the brunt of the food crisis. The Special Rapporteur stated that “The vast majority of children I met in the rural parts of Masvingo and in Mwenezi, as well as in informal settings in the suburbs of Harare, appeared severely stunted and underweight due to reduced food availability caused by high levels of poverty and the consequence of the recurrent drought and floods.” She added that she saw effects of infants who are deprived of breast milk as their mothers are failing to access adequate food to produce breast milk. This, she explained has a far reaching effect on the health and welfare of the children.
The report confirms that almost 8 million Zimbabweans in both rural and urban areas will need food and other aid until March 2020. However, the vulnerability of this population is being exacerbated by the blatant politicization of aid and deprivation for those perceived to be opposition supporters. This was evidenced by the rise in the number of cases related to food and other aid to 55 cases recorded during the month of November up from the October cases at 33. Masvingo province recorded the highest number of this violation at 22 followed by Mashonaland Central province with 10.
Junior doctors in public health institutions have been on strike since September 3, 2019, and on 26 November 2019 senior doctors joined the job action. Citizens are failing to access healthcare as the work stoppage continues without a solution in sight.
The lack of health care professionals in public hospitals is negatively impacting on maternal health care as the majority of women cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged by private health institutions. Some have resorted to unregistered backyard services such as those offered by Esther Zinyoro who was widely reported in the media.
Zinyoro’s two roomed apartment in Mbare was being used as a ‘maternity’ centre where she delivered upwards of 10 babies in a week. Images of naked women writhing in agony on a floor covered with canvas material made the rounds on social media, leading to widespread condemnation and outcry. Of concern is the fact that the first lady Mrs Auxillia Mnangagwa visited Zinyoro’s premises and commended her for her hard work and donated supplies such as food stuffs and latex gloves. This move by the first lady may well be perceived as a subtle endorsement of Zinyoro, despite the fact that she has never received any formal training as a midwife, operates as an unregistered health institution and has no professional experience in dealing with complications which may arise from the delivery process and puts both the mother and child at risk of contracting disease. The visit also displays misplaced priorities and a lack of political will and commitment to see an end to the myriad of challenges facing the health delivery system.
The continued impasse between the government and health professionals is distressing as Zimbabweans are suffering and dying from illnesses which could easily be treated. Incredulously, government has fired over 435 doctors with no indications of how they will be replaced. This is a worrying situation which reflects a government that does not care about the welfare of its citizens.
Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mthuli Ncube presented the ZWD63, 66 billion 2020 budget titled “Gearing for Higher Productivity, Growth and Job creation”. Notable and commendable changes were that the education and health sectors received the highest allocations at ZWD10, 7 billion and ZWD6, 5 billion respectively; a shift from the past where the defence ministry received the highest allocation.Furthermore, government set aside ZWD200 million to procure sanitary wear for disadvantaged women and girls, a welcome relief for millions of girls for whom sanitary wear was inaccessible due to high prices. Interestingly, while the majority of citizens are reeling in extreme poverty the budget statement also set aside resources for a space satellite.
Minister Ncube however announced the continuation of subsidies to Command Agriculture and Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) while scrapping grain subsidies to grain millers. The Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMZ) subsequently announced an increase in the price of mealie meal from ZWD55 to ZWD101, 66. The public outcry that followed led President Emmerson Mnangagwa to restore the subsidies. He stated that he had not been consulted before the decision was taken.
Download full report here (1.4MB PDF)