Classism affecting the social distancing mantra in Zimbabwe

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rages on, we are told the “virus does not discriminate rich and poor alike we are all in this together.” However the reality is that the privileged, who enjoy relative safety expect the workers to risk infections to keep profits rolling in. This virus is exposing the rotten and heartless nature of society and governments. The term “every man for himself and God for us all” can be easily fitted in the puzzle as the poor and vulnerable has nowhere to run. The country is facing its worst economic decline and collapse in ten years and the lockdowns is making livelihoods even more unbearable.

Zimbabwe recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 20 March 2020 from a 38-year-old Victoria Falls resident who had travelled to the United Kingdom on March 7 and returned on March 15 via South Africa. The country also recorded its first death from the COVID-19 on when a young prominent broadcaster Zororo Makamba died on March 23 2020 at Wilkins Infectious disease hospital. This has sent chills among most Zimbabwean as it is a wakeup call about the seriousness of the coronavirus which has led to the implementation of social distancing by the government. Social distancing is a set of non-pharmaceutical measures taken to prevent the spread of contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people and so breaking the “chain of transmission” of the disease by reducing physical conduct among people.

The practise of social distancing as a precautionary measure has turned out to be a great challenge as issues like lack of water has multiple effects primarily on diet and hygiene. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in China in October last year, the worldwide mantra has been to wash hands thoroughly, however in Zimbabwe we have locations like Zimre Park where people last had running water in taps 5 years ago, and towns like Chitungwiza which is home to almost half a million people and last had running water on taps three years ago. This makes the social distancing mantra hard to implement as people have to queue in their hundreds every day at community boreholes to collect water for the day thus making them vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease. Before announcing the lockdown, the government and town councils must have come up with solutions of how people can easily have water without crowding and gathering in the same place in their hundreds. The lack so protective measures by the government shows how as a country we are not prepared to face this global crisis as the majorities living conditions are more of a contributing factor to the spreading of the disease. This problem however does not affect those in the lower suburbs as they generally do not rely on city council water or community boreholes as they can afford boreholes in their yards. This gives them no reason to leave their yards and thus social distancing is more effective in their circles.

It is practically impossible to lockdown in an informal economy where ninety percent of the people are unemployed and sixty percent depends on vending in the streets without any form of relief to the needy and less privileged. The role of the government is to serve and protect its citizens, especially in a crisis like this one. The government should have put in place ways to assist people. It is more practical for people who work in offices to work from home but if your only means of livelihood is vending then hunger will kill you and your family before the virus gets to you.

In a global crisis, lack of access to true and credible information hinders progress and affects public response and precautionary measures to take. Zimbabweans have not been getting credible information on the correct numbers of infected people and deaths. People cannot afford to look for credible Covid-19 news from reliable sources and hugely depending on hearsay news which is in most cases false. Tests are not being done at a larger scale and the amount of landing planes in the country is alarming. No one knows how prepared the government is in dealing with this pandemic. It was Zororo Makamba’s death that exposed how unequipped and unready Zimbabwean hospitals are.

Covid-19 is a crisis that affects everyone but it is the poor and marginalised communities that will suffer the most especially in a country like Zimbabwe were you worry about today and tomorrow is a problem waiting to be faced later. Though the lockdown initiative is very welcome and a much appreciated effort one wonders on how it is only effective to the “haves” in a country populated by “have nots”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to sweeping changes and disruptions in nearly every aspect of daily life. Sometimes we may be quick to criticize others without making the effort to understand their situation and how their experiences are impacting their choices. If you are in a financial position where you can stay home, look for ways you can support others who may be struggling. So while you may be keeping your physical distance from others to prevent the spread of the virus, it doesn’t mean you need to be emotionally distant. Show concern and stay connected to the people in your life.

Source: Janet Chiedza Tsinakwadi

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