Zimbabwe COVID-19 Lockdown Weekly Monitoring Report: 5 January to 8 January 2021 Days 1-4

Introduction

This report covers the period between Tuesday, 5 January 2021 to Friday, 8 January 2021 of the national lockdown which was announced by the Minister of Health and Child Care, Vice President Constantine Chiwenga on 2 January 2021. The thirty (30) day national lockdown was declared as effective from 5 January 2021 to 3 February 2021. It was necessitated by an increase in deaths and confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. As of Thursday 7 January 2021, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had increased to eighteen thousand six hundred and seventy-five (18 675) with eight hundred and seventy-one (871) new cases being reported on the same day. The death toll increased to four hundred and forty-six (446) with fifteen (15) deaths being reported on the same day.

Methodology

This report encompasses reports gathered nationally by the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP).

Regulatory framework

Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021, Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order, 2021 (No. 9) was gazetted to regulate the national lockdown. The statutory instrument introduced the following measures:

  • Gatherings are reduced to not more than 30 people at all funerals. All other gatherings at weddings, churches, bars, bottle stores, gymnasiums, restaurants are banned for 30 days.
  • The existing COVID-19 preventive health measures will be strictly enforced that is to say the correct wearing of face masks, social distancing, hand sanitization and temperature checks will be strictly enforced.
  • Only essential services are to remain open such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets, with only essential staff allowed to come to work. These services can only open at 8 am and must close at 3 pm and will be subject to a curfew that will start at 6 pm and end at 6 am.
  • Of the other commercial services only mining, manufacturing and agriculture will operate. Other commercial services including formal businesses and registered informal traders are suspended from Tuesday 5 January 2021 for 30 days.
  • Intercity travelling has also been banned save for transportation of essential goods and cross border traders. Air transportation has not been affected upon submission of a COVID-19 free certificate.
  • Schools will remain closed and only examination classes will be open.
  • Citizens must stay at home save for buying food and medicines or transporting sick relatives.
  • Cross border traders are stopped forthwith save for commercial and transit cargo related to essential and critical services.
  • Restaurants, bottle stores and bars are closed for 30 days except for bars and restaurants serving hotel residents. Also, tourist facilities and national parks will operate as before subject to the usual health precautions.
  • Members of the public are expected to shop within a five-kilometre radius from their homes
  • Exemption letters for members of the public, entities and essential services sectors such as food distribution and retailers, mining, communication and telecommunications, agriculture production, security companies and companies as pronounced by the Government and the media movement and exemption letters will now be issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

Health Sector

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time when the health system in Zimbabwe is on its last leg. Most hospitals in Zimbabwe have a critical shortage of beds, medication, personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical COVID-19 essential equipment such as ventilators. The situation is further compounded by intermittent strike action by nurses and doctors over pay and working conditions. On 7 January 2021 for example, nurses at the Sally Mugabe Hospital in Harare embarked on a strike after a senior nurse succumbed to COVID-19. Among other demands, the nurses called on the government to provide protective personal equipment to help protect them from contracting COVID-19. With Harare having the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, Parirenyatwa Hospital only has a bed capacity of less than 25, whilst private hospitals require upfront payments of USD2 500 to USD5 000 which most people cannot afford.

Lockdown defiance and enforcement

The Forum noted widespread reports of citizens defying the national lockdown regulations. In most of the cases that have been reported, citizens have defied the lockdown to pursue economic activities. Resultantly, most farmers markets such as Mbare and Sakubva Farmers Market in Mutare remained operational. The Zimbabwe Peace Project also received cases of citizens defying the national lockdown to drink alcohol in illicit bars, which have unfortunately resurfaced. Such reports were received from Gweru, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Harare.

Nationally, the Forum received reports of police officers mounting checkpoints on most of the major roads that lead into city centres. Across the nation, police officers were requesting exemption letters and enforcing the mandatory wearing of face masks. Reports of members of the public being turned away due to lack of exemption letters were also received. However, of concern were reports of solicited bribes by members of the security forces to allow members of the public, without proper documentation, to pass through checkpoints. A similar report was received in Harare wherein security officers manning the checkpoint at the National Heroes Acre solicited bribes from commuter omnibus operators.

On 6 January 2021 at around 9 a.m at Glenview Informal Traders Complex in Harare, informal workers defied the national lockdown regulations and could be observed going about their normal business. Police officers who tried to disperse the informal traders were attacked with stones. Later in the day, anti-riot police managed to disperse the informal traders. In a related incident on 7 January 2021 in Chitungwiza, police officers fired teargas to displace vendors, informal traders and members of the public at Chigovanyika Shopping Centre.

Apart from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, reports also indicated that members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) were observed enforcing the national lockdown. In Muzarabani for instance, armed soldiers were seen patrolling the area around the growth point, thereby forcing members of the public and shop owners to observe physical distancing measures as well as making sure shops close on time. In Lupane District Matshiya Ward 15 however, soldiers were observed harassing shop owners and forcing them to close before the stipulated time.

On 5 January 2021, reports circulated that a ZRP officer had allegedly employed excessive force in engaging civilians at a local bus-stop, resulting in injury to both a 9 month year old baby and its mother. The police officer was alleged to have struck the baby with a baton stick, who was strapped to his mother’s back along Sam Nujoma Street in Harare. However, The Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Kazembe Kazembe, through a statement dated 7 January 2021 asserted that the mother and child were hit by fragments of a smashed windscreen and that the child nor the mother had sustained serious injuries. However, the incident serves to show the use of disproportionate use of force by police officers to enforce the lockdown regulations.

General updates

The Task Force on Harmonisation and Standardisation of the Public Sector Remuneration Framework announced that civil servants who contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty have started receiving health insurance cover ranging from USD650 to USD1 000 paid in local currency at the prevailing official exchange rate. The Public Service Commission (PSC) Head of Pay and Benefits Development, Mr Elson Gonye, addressed journalists and confirmed the development and added that the PSC was in the process of collecting statistics from line ministries to ascertain the exact number of beneficiaries so far.

The Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr John Mangwiro, advised journalists that the government has set aside ZWL7 billion for the fight against COVID-19. According to Dr Mangwiro, the ZWL7 billion will be used to motivate and employ more health workers, procure testing kits, PPEs, sundries, sanitisers and to improve infrastructure. Dr Mangwiro also added that the government has procured 156 000 test kits for which will be distributed throughout the country in due course.

Assault and torture

On 6 January 2021, it was reported that ZNA members in Bulawayo Central Business District assaulted three (3) people at Cecil Hotel. It was reported that the trio, Thandazani Moyo, Simbarashe Zvimba and Nyasha Moyo were assaulted with baton sticks and sjamboks for failure to wear face masks. It is further alleged that the trio was then taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station where they were fined ZWL500 each.

In Binga North, at Mlibizi, police officers assaulted Mathias Mwenje with baton sticks for defying the lockdown regulations when the police officers caught him fishing. Mwenje sustained injuries to his back and legs as a result of the assault. Similarly, police officers also assaulted Thubelihle Moyo with baton sticks in Pumula Bulawayo. It was reported that Moyo arrived in Pumula around 7:37 p.m as a result of difficulties in finding transport. Upon arrival, police officers patrolling the streets assaulted Moyo and damaged his phone in the process. Moyo reported that he is having difficulties passing urine as a result of the assault.

In Hwange, at Chinotimba Bus Rank, police officers assaulted Mbulisi Moyo and another unidentified person for allegedly defying the lockdown by not wearing a face mask. It was reported that the duo was assaulted with baton sticks after they were observed sitting under a tree drinking alcohol. Moyo sustained bruises on his back as a result of the assault.

Arbitrary Arrests

On 6 January 2021, police officers arrested thirteen (13) people at Mkoba 1 Shopping Centre on allegations of breaching the COVID-19 national lockdown by loitering. It was reported that the arrested persons were queuing for mealie meal when the 6 police officers rounded them up and took them to Mkoba Police Station. The arrested persons were released after paying an admission of guilt fine of ZWL500 each.

The National Police Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, stated that 3150 people have been arrested countrywide for contravening COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

Summary of Violations

The table below summarises COVID-19 related human rights violations documented by the Forum Secretariat and Forum Members from 5 January to 8 January 2021.

Nature of ViolationNumber of VictimsLocation
Assaults and Torture7Hwange, Binga, Bulawayo
Arbitrary arrests13Gweru

Court Update

On 5 January 2021, Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice, Luke Malaba issued guidelines for the judiciary system during the 30-day national lockdown through Practice Direction 1 of 2021. The issues addressed include the following:

  • The Courts will remain open for the duration of the lockdown period.
  • With effect from 5 January 2021, the filing of new cases, process, documents, pleadings and supporting papers shall be suspended for thirty (30) days up to 3 February 2021.
  • The limited services that will be provided by the courts are initial remands, urgent processes and applications, in addition to bail applications.
  • The Sheriff and the Messenger of Court will be available to attend to matters of initial remands, urgent processes and applications, in addition to and bail applications.
  • Registries shall be open to litigants and legal practitioners on weekdays, between 8 a.m and 3 p.m to accept processes related to matters of initial remands, urgent processes and applications, in addition to bail applications.
  • Entry into Court premises/courthouses/courtrooms shall be limited to litigants their legal practitioners’ necessary witnesses and identified members of the press.
  • Entry into Court premises/courthouses shall strictly be prohibited to members of the public who have no business at court.
  • Litigants who are required to attend Court in a Province or District other than where they are normally resident shall obtain the necessary letters of clearance at the police station.
  • The time limited by any rule for the filing of processes, pleadings, documents and or papers shall be suspended for the duration of the national lockdown.

Meanwhile, Mfundo Mlilo and the Zimbabwe Informal Traders Association filed an urgent application at court challenging the rationality of a 30-day long national lockdown. The application cited the Ministry of Health and Child Care as the respondent and the remedy sought is to shorten the lockdown period based on scientific evidence on the incubation period of COVID-19. The same lawyers also filed another application on behalf of Obey Shava and the Young Lawyers Association of Zimbabwe (YLAZ) seeking to declare the exclusion of legal services as as an essential service to be declared as a contravention of lawyer’s rights in terms of the Constitution.

The organisers of the Mbare New Year’s Eve music gala who were identified as DJ Fantan and Levels, were sentenced to an effective six (6) month prison term by Harare Magistrate, Vongai Guwuriro after the trio pleaded guilty to violating the COVID-19 regulations. Meanwhile, four police officers from Mbare district were suspended as a result of the music gala and for the failure to institute lockdown measures.

Conclusion

The Forum remains extremely concerned with the continuous flouting of COVID-19 regulations amidst evidence of increased cases. The Forum is also gravely concerned about the inadequacies of the state of preparedness and response mechanisms that the government has put in place to curb COVID-19 infections. This is evidenced by reports from medical facilities around the country that they have inadequate medical resources, equipment and medicines to treat the disease and take care of citizens’ medical needs.

In light of the above, the Forum reiterates to the government of Zimbabwe the need to put in place effective and meaningful strategies to respond to and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, in the light of arbitrary arrests and assaults of citizens, the Forum also urges the government of Zimbabwe to respect the fundamental human rights of its citizens and not to take advantage of the state of disaster that has been induced by COVID-19, to clamp down on rights.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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