Zimbabwe COVID-19 Lockdown Weekly Monitoring Report: 15 January – 24 January 2021 Days 11-20


Introduction 

This report covers the period Friday 15 January 2021 to Sunday 24 January 2021 of the national lockdown period that was declared by the Minister of Health and Child Care, Vice President Constantine Chiwenga on 2 January 2021. The 30-day national lockdown will be in effect from 5 January 2021 to 3 February 2021. As of Sunday 24 January 2021, the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 31 320 with 313 new cases being reported on the same day. The death toll increased to 1005, with 31 deaths being reported on the day. The Chief Coordinator of the National Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva attributed the surge in new cases to delays in contact tracing.

Methodology

This report encompasses reports gathered nationally by the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Counselling Services Unit (CSU), and excerpts from a report generated by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR).  

Press Statements

By the Acting President and Minister of Health and Child Care Constantine Chiwenga

Through a press statement delivered on 15 January 2021, the Acting President and Minister of Health and Child Care Constantine Chiwenga advised that:

  • The government is in full control in terms of managing the pandemic,
  • Zimbabwe has enough beds to accommodate serious cases, and the government is prepared to attend to the expansion of facilities if so required, contrary to social media reports,
  • Citizens should rely on official information to avoid unwarranted panic,
  • Zimbabwe has adopted a measured approach, with experts interrogating all safety concerns with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine,
  • COVID-19 vaccination is going to be voluntary, and
  • Health workers will receive COVID-19 risk allowances.

By President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Through a press statement issued on 23 January, President Mnangagwa reassured Zimbabweans that the country will soon overcome the harsh phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. The President further advised that:

  • The government was finalising plans to roll out a mass vaccination programme,
  • The government would spare no resources to save Zimbabwean lives,
  • There will be deployment of additional law enforcement officers to clampdown on lockdown violations,
  • the government is appealing to the private sector and the donor community to work together.

Regulatory framework  

The Ministry Of Health and Child Care introduced regulations that prohibit the inter-city transportation of deceased persons for burial. Through a letter that was published by the National Police Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi on 10 January 2021, a body will only be buried in the town/city where the death would have taken place. This is being done to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, the Police will only clear the movement of deceased persons for burial directly from a funeral parlour/hospital mortuary to the burial site. Body viewing will not be allowed and bodies will not be taken home.

In response, the Forum served the Ministry of Health and Child Care with a letter requesting the legal basis of the directive. The Forum indicated to the Ministry that a response was anticipated by 15 January 2021, failing which legal proceedings would be instituted.

Lockdown defiance and enforcement

In her weekly update, the National Chief COVID-19 Coordinator in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, Dr Agnes Mahomva pointed to the increase in indiscipline regarding the observance of COVID-19 regulations among citizens, as the chief culprit behind the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. This comes after widespread reports of informal traders resuming their businesses at Mbare’s “Magaba” home industry site. Informal traders were also observed going about their usual operations throughout the weekend in defiance of the COVID-19 national lockdown regulations. Vendors have flocked the Siyaso, Magaba and Mupedzanhamo areas to sell their wares. In Bulawayo, police officers resorted to the deployment of water cannons in the central business district to disperse people who were loitering. Reports from Gwanda also indicate widespread defiance of the national lockdown regulations.

As there has continued to be defiant practice in relation to the national lockdown regulations, some police officers have resorted to enriching themselves through the solicitation of bribes from citizens. A police officer stationed at Dangamvura Police Station was arrested on allegations of releasing a suspect he had arrested for illegally selling alcohol to members of the public, in breach of COVID-19 regulations after soliciting a US$30 bribe. Meanwhile, three police officers based in Harare were arrested for illegally mounting a roadblock at corner Leopold Takawira Street and Nelson Mandela Avenue. The trio arrested a motorist, Anthony Hwingwiri, and demanded a US$30 bribe in oblivion to the fact that they were being monitored by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) officers.

An investigation by The Sunday Mail showed that Klosad Clinical Diagnostics Laboratory owned by the former Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo is involved in a corruption syndicate of producing fake COVID-19 certificates. It was reported that a fraudulent COVID-19 certificate is being priced at USD 45.

The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has impacted rural communities, which were previously seen as safe havens, with many positive cases being confirmed and deaths reported since the beginning of the year. Most rural areas have reported cases of COVID-19, especially those that share borders with neighbouring countries. Mashonaland West province, which recorded 20 deaths last Thursday is fretting over the increasing rate of infections. Mhangura constituency in Makonde District has since 5 January 2021 recorded over 37 positive cases and one death.

COVID-19 in Prison Facilities

The Forum has noted several reports regarding the deplorable state of prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Complaints received from former Harare Mayor, Jacob Mafume in court pointed to the absence of social distancing regulations, an absence of hand sanitisers, a lack of personal protective equipment among prisoners and some prison officers, in addition to a lack of proper bedding. Mafume through his lawyers also made allegations that he, together with 63 others, were being kept in a cell that was meant for 30 prisoners.  This report was also corroborated by Advocate Fadzayi Mahere’s lawyer, David Drury, who told the Harare Magistrate Court that inmates were not subjected to temperature checks or regular sanitising, there was no social distancing in the waiting areas or holding cells, and that there was a general lack of proper hygiene in the cells. In June 2020, confirmed cases of COVID-19 were documented among prison officers and inmates at prison facilities in both Beitbridge and Plumtree.

On 18 January, Fadzayi Mahere reported that she had contracted COVID-19 whilst in detention despite having been in an isolation cell and quarantine section at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. The torrid prison conditions and the risk associated with the spread of COVID-19 also prompted Alan Moyo to file an urgent application at the High Court challenging the exposure of inmates to COVID-19.

Attacks against journalists  

On 14 January 2021, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) officers harassed and threatened to shoot freelance journalist, Frank Chikowore at the Harare Magistrates Court. Chikowore was trying to position himself to film the arrival of political activist, Hopewell Chin’ono, and MDC Alliance Vice-Chairperson, Job Sikhala, when two prison officers harassed him whilst another pointed an AK assault rifle at him.

Assault and torture

On 9 January 2021, two soldiers assaulted a police officer who was leading a team mandated with the enforcement of lockdown regulations in Chipinge. Milicent Ndebvu (30) and Mike Nyabote (36), who are stationed at 3.3 Infantry Reserve Battalion, assaulted Steven Chananda for closing Climax Studio, a location at which the two soldiers were drinking alcohol. The soldiers proceeded to assault Chananda with fists and booted feet.

On 15 January 2021, police officers assaulted an informal trader named Velani Maphosa with baton sticks and fists. It is alleged that Maphosa was working in his workshop at Fig tree at around 6 pm without wearing a face mask. The police officers proceeded to assault Maphosa indiscriminately. It was also reported that two of his co-workers were also arrested and taken to Fig Tree Police Station where they were later released without charge.

On 18 January, Police officers in Binga at Lusulu Bus Terminus assaulted Gloria Mwiinde during a police blitz to arrest citizens defying the lockdown. It was reported that Mwiinde, who was not wearing a face mask, had just come out of the shop where she had been buying groceries. It is alleged 2 police officers (1 make and 1 female) approached Mwiinde and indiscriminately assaulted her with baton sticks. Mwiinde’s groceries were destroyed during the incident.

Arbitrary Arrests

On 14 January 2021, in the Mangwe Constituency at Nkulumane Sekusile, police officers arrested 12 people and charged them with loitering at around 4 pm. It was reported that the arrested persons were in a queue waiting to catch a ZUPCO bus in order to return to their respective homes when police officers arrested them on the accusation that they were loitering. The arrested persons were taken to Nkulumane Police Station where they were detained, only to be released at around 11 pm after paying admission of guilt fines of ZWL 200.

Summary of Violations

The table below summarises COVID-19 related human rights violations documented by the Forum Secretariat and Forum Members from 5 January 2021 to 18 January 2021.

Nature of ViolationNumber of VictimsLocation
Assaults and Torture9Hwange, Binga, Bulawayo, Chipinge, Fig tree
Arbitrary arrests25Gweru, Nkulumane
Attacks against journalists1Harare

Conclusion

The Forum remains deeply concerned with the continued defiance of COVID-19 regulations by citizens amidst evidence of increasing cases of the virus. In light of the above, the Forum reiterates the need for effective and meaningful strategies by the government to respond to and to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the observed trend towards arbitrary arrests and assaults of citizens necessitates a call to respect fundamental human rights of citizens by the government the need to protect against the taking advantage of the state of disaster-induced by COVID-19 to clamp down on rights. Given the recent reports on the current state of prisons across the nation, the Forum calls upon authorities to take special note of the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 in prison facilities and immediately implement the recommended safety measures.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum