“Unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything” — Rev. Peter Marshall,
The global pandemic of COVID-19, brought about anxiety and mental stress across different age groups. In Zimbabwe, the impact was worse due to the social and economic problems and fragility of the health system
The pandemic exposed the worrisome state of our health system which needs urgent attention and adequate funding. Health personnel who were on the frontlines of responding to the pandemic were put on risk without adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and a number have been reported to have contracted the virus whilst on duty. The lack of PPEs in most facilities resulted in a number of people being turned away for medical assistance as fear of getting the virus grew.
In terms of restrictive measures, the government responded by following what other countries were doing, that is calling for a national lockdown, with movement and gathering restrictions. However, the enforcement mechanism violated a number of legal provisions that promote social and economic freedoms. Restricted movements prevented people from attending Constitutional amendments meetings. Although alternative methods of sending contributions via WhatsApp was introduced to address the challenges brought by restrictions on gatherings, this approach excluded many people considering the high data tariffs in Zimbabwe. The repressive nature of the law enforcement agents prevented people from buying basic social amenities, as was agreed upon by the stipulated lockdown conditions.
As a way of trying to combat the spread of the virus, the government responded by granting tenders to companies to supply protective equipment. It is alleged that proper tender procedures where not followed, hence lack of transparency and accountability.
Speculations were made concerning the granting of mineral rights at the Hwange National Park as unusual and an act that was done under the cover of the lockdown where due processes were simply short circuited. This move which has since been challenged and revised threatened the biodiversity already under threat from climate change.
During the pandemic, an article was published naming the beneficiaries of the RBZ Farm Mechanization Scheme which was ran by the Central Bank in 2007 and 2008. A huge number of the beneficiaries failed to pay back the amount for reasons best known by them. This raises questions concerning a more similar scheme named Command Agriculture, whose beneficiaries and the benefits remained a close guarded secret. This then cements the public fears that, like its predecessor, the program is aimed at enriching few elite members at the expense of well deserving members of the community.
In the Post COVID-19 period, it is of great importance for every citizen to participate in shaping the national discourse through active participation in public policy issues and demanding rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Active participation in the budget making process is a must. The starting point could be participating in local council meetings and demanding from local Members of Parliament how community development fund is being disbursed.
Citizens must demand institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption to be accountable and do their constitutional duty and curb the systematic corruption which is partly to blame for the under development of the country. With COVID-19 accelerating the need to embrace technology and reduce the need for physical meeting, adopting an electronic filling of tender papers will be the best solution to curb corruption and stop “tender-prenuership”.
Community members must ensure that they participate and are involved when investors prospect in their areas and ensure resources are raised in a good progressive manner, to their benefit. It is of importance to ensure local resources are not mortgaged to foreigners who are not willing to invest in ways that also benefit the citizens. Citizens must demand to know how much these investors are worth.
Post COVID-19, the government must show a more determined approach to ensure the realization of social-economic rights and partner with local communities. One lesson that can be borrowed from this pandemic is that, with teamwork and willingness everyone can achieve more. It is the duty of citizens to hold the government accountable, demand transparency as provided by section 298(1) of the Constitution.
For Zimbabwe to progress there is need for improved transparency and accountability and this is something that everyone should yearn for and everyone must make a stand and play. During this Covid-19 period, there is need to re-think citizen participation that is adaptable and flexible to the “new normal”.
Mufaro Mpofu is a practising Attorney and a Social and Economic Justice Ambassador