Zimbabwe COVID-19 Lockdown Monitoring Report 22-23 May 2020 – Days 54-55

Introduction

Saturday 23 May 2020 was day 55 of the national lockdown which was declared by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and has been in place since 30 March 2020. The lockdown was extended indefinitely on 16 May 2020 and remains on what the President called Level 2 which allows the nation to gradually ease out of the lockdown while minimising the risk of a sudden increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

On 23 May, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that one thousand four hundred and twenty-six (1 426) tests were conducted. This increased the cumulative tests to thirty-six thousand five hundred and thirty-eight (36 538). Of these, thirty-six thousand and four hundred and eighty-two (36 482) were negative. The number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases remained to fifty-six (56) while recoveries increased to twenty-three (23) and the death toll remains at four (4).

Methodology

Information contained in this report is derived from the following Forum Members: Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP); Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA); Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR); Counselling Services Unit (CSU); Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR); Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights); Excerpts from reports generated by Community Radio Harare have also been incorporated into this report.

Emerging issues

General updates

According to a report published by the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, the government is running out of COVID-19 test kits resulting in a huge backlog of thousands of untested laboratory samples countrywide. According to the report, the government had targeted to test 40 000 people by the end of April, however, as of 23 May, only 36 538 tests had been conducted. It was further reported that the National Micro-Biology Centre at Sally Mugabe Hospital in Harare is grappling with mounting samples which have not been tested for the past 7 days.

In Harare, illegal foreign currency dealers have re-surfaced in the CBD around Fifth Street, Main Post Office and Market Square bus terminus. Most of the foreign currency dealers operating in Harare CBD use fake exemption letters to circumvent checkpoints. Due to travel restrictions, illegal foreign currency dealers have also surfaced in most shopping centres around Harare. At OK Supermarket in the Marimba suburb of Harare, for example, illegal foreign currency dealers were spotted with mounds of the recently introduced ZWL10 notes.

It has been reported that up to 20 Beitbridge residents have had police dogs set on them since the lockdown began on 30 March. A nurse at Beitbridge District Hospital confirmed that 20 people had been treated for police dog bites during the lockdown period. It was also reported that some police officers in the town are demanding bribes in exchange for freedom. Residents identified police officers from the K9 unit who drive a Toyota truck. One of the victims, Tafadzwa Mukutiri has since filed a report against the police. However, Matabeleland South police spokesman Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele has denied that any such reports of police brutality and corruption have been received by the police during the lockdown.

Right to food and water

According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), the cost of living in Zimbabwe skyrocketed by ZWL324 to ZWL7 171 at the end of April, primarily due to limited supply of basic products as well as panic buying by consumers because of the lockdown. A survey conducted by the CCZ showed that the cost of living for a family of six shot up by 4,74% to ZWL7 171 in April. The prices of most basic commodities in the period under review registered an increase of over 100% which saw prices of 10kgs of mealie meal increase from ZWL80 to over ZWL180. The increase in the cost of living has gone beyond the monthly incomes of the majority of citizens which hardly go beyond ZWL3 000. Further, most families have not received any income for the past 52 days as a result of the COVID-19 national lockdown.

According to reports received from Muzarabani, mealie meal shortages have resulted in the price increase of the commodity. Most shops which still have the commodity have resorted to exclusively selling mealie meal in foreign currency. Meanwhile, community members in Muzarabani indicate that they are yet to receive subsidised mealie meal from the government.

In Bulawayo’s high-density suburb of Lobengula, most retail shops were pricing their commodities exclusively in USD. Community members are still battling with water challenges. In Imbizo, it was reported that tapped water is available for three days a week. People with private boreholes are selling 20 litres of water for ZWL2,50. Similar reports of massive water cuts have also been reported in Makokoba. It was reported that the water challenges have resulted in chaos at community boreholes and water bowsers being provided by the Bulawayo City Council and other private players.

Rural communities in Matabeleland have expressed concerns over the transport costs incurred in receiving food handouts from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. According to reports published by the Habakkuk Trust, beneficiaries of food aid are required to pay costs towards the transportation of maize. Due to the unavailability of government transport, vehicles are hired to ferry the maize from the Grain Marketing Board depots to distribution centres, and recipients share the cost. In Matobo District beneficiaries are paying between 20 to 30 South African Rands for every 20 kg bag of maize received while in Insiza and Tshololotsho community members pay ZWL10 and ZWL30, respectively. The transport costs are out of the reach of vulnerable households which include the elderly, disabled, and orphans.

Mandatory testing and quarantine

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mr Nick Mangwana indicated that Treasury released ZWL7 million for renovations of Ekusileni COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Bulawayo. Mangwana also reported that there are currently 114 ex-convicts quarantined at Bulawayo Polytechnic College while United College of Education in Bulawayo, 105 female returnees.

Manicaland Province received twenty-one (21) returnees from South Africa on 22 May 2020. The returnees are quarantined at Magamba Training Center which is a designated COVID-19 isolation centre. It was also reported that three (3) returnees from South Africa absconded from Mary Mount Teachers College quarantine centre. When police officers visited their given addresses, they discovered that the addresses were false. The security forces currently are looking for them.

Mosi oa Tunya quarantine centre in Victoria Falls received 11 returnees through the Victoria Falls Border Post, bringing the total number of people quarantined on the centre seventy-one (71).

According to reports, close to 200 people who are quarantined at Masvingo Teachers’ College indicated that they are over-crowded, the food is bad and they are hardly given updates regarding their tests. It was reported that their tests were collected on 15 May. However, they have not received their results or any updates to date.

On 23 May, it was reported that Zimbabweans quarantined at Belvedere Teachers College in Harare staged a demonstration against a government requirement for them to each pay a mandatory fee of USD65 to get tested for COVID-19 for them to be cleared. However, according to the High Court order in the case of Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights versus the Minister of Health and Child Care and Others, it is the responsibility of the government to increase screening and testing, therefore, the government should bear the cost of such tests.

At Selbourne Primary School in Belvedere in Harare, it was reported that returnees quarantined at the institution complained of the lack of adequate blankets and food. Some of the returnees do not have beds and they are forced to sleep on the floor.

Re-opening of academic institutions

Zimbabwean universities will be re-opening from 1 June, but only final year students will be allowed on campus, with the rest learning remotely using virtual and distance education. According to Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Professor Amon Murwira, by 21 May, all universities had submitted reopening plans to the Ministry. Speaking to the Harare Bureau, Minister Amon Murwira said universities would reopen under World Health Organisation guidelines. Professor Murwira said, “We have agreed on a general date of 1 June. This is when every university should start blended learning. In the first phase, only final year classes are expected to be receiving face-to-face learning, while others use online learning. We did this to allow social distancing on campus”.

In preparation for the reopening of schools, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education held a consultative workshop in Bikita at Silveira Mission School and Pamushana High School on 23 May. Chemistry teachers at these schools were also taught on how to make sanitisers while textile design and technology teachers, were taught on how to make re-usable face masks.

Abduction update

It was reported that there is a heavy deployment of law enforcement agents around the hospital premises where MDC Alliance Harare West Member of Parliament Honourable Joana Mamombe and Youth Assembly leaders Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova are receiving treatment. According to the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, the trio broke the law in that they led a demonstration amidst the lockdown regulations that prohibit demonstrations. Therefore the trio is wanted by the police so that they can be interviewed on why they broke the law. Ziyambi addressing Parliament on 21 May indicated that the trio is not co-operating with police officers, but seem to be happy to be in the hospital.

Attack on journalists

In Waterfalls in Harare, two (2) journalists Frank Chikore and Samuel Takawira were arrested by the police whilst conducting their duties on 22 May. It was alleged that the journalists had been working on a story related to the abductions of the MDC Alliance trio that was abducted last week. It was reported they were detained in custody at Harare Central Police Station where they were charged with breaching section 11 (b) of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 by allegedly not complying with the directive of police officers not to interview the trio. Frank Chikore and Samuel Takawira appeared at Mbare Magistrates Court on 23 May for bail proceedings and were remanded in custody to 26 May for ruling.

Summary of violations

The table below summarises human rights violations documented by the Forum Secretariat and Forum Members from 30 March to 23 May 2020.

Nature of ViolationNumber of VictimsLocation
Assault253Harare, Zvishavane, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Wedza, Chinhoyi, Zaka, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Bindura, Nembudziya, Chiredzi, Marondera, Mutoko, Chivi, Bikita, Zvishavane, Mvurwi, Mutare, Marondera, Beitbridge, Domboshava, Wengezi
Attack on Journalists16Mutare, Gweru, Chinhoyi, Harare, Chiredzi, Masvingo, Beitbridge
Arrests338Masvingo, Gokwe, Gweru, Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Hwange, Harare, Magunje, Lupane, Norton, Bikita, Mutasa, Chitungwiza, Nkayi, Makoni, Chipinge, Beitbridge, Lupane, Tsholotsho, Mwenezi, Guruve, Hwange, Mvurwi
Malicious Damage to Property2Harare, Chitungwiza
Missing persons/Abductions3Harare

7th Anniversary of the Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013

22 May 2020 marked the 7th anniversary of the Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013. In March 2013, the majority of Zimbabwe’s voters voted through a national referendum for the nation to adopt the Constitution. The Constitution was designed to be an improvement of Zimbabwe’s governance and democracy, compared to the state of affairs under the Lancaster House Constitution which previously governed Zimbabwe.

The Forum is concerned by the flagrant disregard by law enforcement officers of the fundamental rights that are protected in the Constitution with impunity. These violations existed before and have continued during the national lockdown. Even with a period of national disaster having been declared, constitutional rights remain sacrosanct, and certain rights remain inviolable, such as the right to life and the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Petition on police brutality and impunity
The Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Mrs Jestina Mukoko presented a petition on the Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, and the Commissioner-General of Police. The petition raised concern by the Forum on gross human rights violations taking place in the country and perpetrated by the police. Permanent Secretary Mr Aaron Nhekera received the petition of behalf of the Minister and police spokesperson and assistant Commissioner, Paul Nyathi received it on behalf of the Commissioner General.

In the petition the Forum expressed outrage over the assaults, excessive use of force, abductions and torture of citizens by the police, which is going unchecked by relevant authorities. Police brutality and impunity has continued even in the time of the national lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic. In particular, the Forum demanded the following in the petition: That the Commissioner-General of Police forthwith commences a full and thorough criminal investigation to establish what transpired in the abduction and torture of Joana Mamombe, Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, and that the outcome of such investigations be released for the benefit of the general public, including regular progress updates; That the perpetrators of the abduction and torture of Joana Mamombe, Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova be identified and fully prosecuted in terms of the criminal laws of Zimbabwe; That the Commissioner-General of Police fully investigate without fear and favour the circumstances of the unlawful arrest and assault of Nokuthula Mpofu and Ntombizodwa Mpofu; That perpetrators of the unlawful arrest and assault of Nokuthula Mpofu and Ntombizodwa Mpofu be identified and that applicable disciplinary and criminal measures be instituted; That the Commissioner-General of Police conducts full and thorough investigations into all outstanding reported cases concerning police excessive use of force by the police on citizens and ensure accountability of perpetrators; That the Commissioner-General of Police conducts full and thorough investigations into all outstanding reported cases of abductions and torture, with a view to ensure accountability by perpetrators and access to justice by victims, and to break the cycle and trend of abductions and torture that threatens and safety and security of the citizens of Zimbabwe; and That the Commissioner-General of Police and the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage institute remedial reforms within the Zimbabwe

Court Update

On 16 May 2020, Tafadzwa Mukutiri was arrested and coerced to pay a fine of ZWL500 for violating the lockdown regulations. However, Mukutiri was unlawfully assaulted with baton sticks by police officers identified as Sergeant Wafawanaka and Constable Shoko during the course of the arrest. As a result of the unlawful assault, resident Magistrate of the Beitbridge Magistrates Court, Mr Toyindepi Zhou, ordered the police to reverse Tafadzwa Mukutiri’s admission of guilt fine due to accusations of gross human rights violations by police officers. This followed an application by Mukutiri’s lawyer Jabulani Mzinyathi of Garikayi and Company, who argued that the fine was paid under duress.

On 23 May 2020, two journalists Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira appeared before Magistrate Manase Masiiwa at the Mbare Magistrates Court following their arrest on 22 May 2020. They were accused of contravening section 11(b) of SI83/2020. It is alleged that whilst filming and interviewing Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova at Parktown Hospital, the two failed to observe the social distancing rule between themselves and the victims.

The matter was postponed to Tuesday 26 May 2020 when a determination of their bail application will be handed down.

Conclusion

From the reports received by the Forum over the last 7 days, members of the public are abusing the eased lockdown regulations as they are not taking heed of calls for social distancing, putting themselves and other people at risk of COVID-19 infections. The Forum, therefore, calls on community members to observe social distancing.

As of 19 May, over 25 returnees have absconded quarantine centres nationally. Considering that the majority of recent positive COVID-19 confirmed cases in Zimbabwe relate to returnees, returnees who are absconding quarantine centres have become a risk factor for the spread of COVID-19. The Forum, reiterates the importance of security at COVID-19 isolation centres nationally.

The increasing numbers of attacks on journalists discharging their duties and reports of excessive use of force by the police in enforcing lockdown regulations, still remains a matter of great concern. The Forum reminds the government and law enforcement officers to respect the freedom of the media and to allow journalists to carry out their duties unhindered. The Forum also urges the relevant authorities to take action to curb police brutality and impunity during the lockdown period and beyond.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)

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