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A clerical call on ZEC to postpone by-elections until decisive measures are implemented to reduce exposure to Covid-19 pandemic

by Magugu Benard, Zapu Secretary of Elections (NEC)
24 Mar 2020 at 03:49hrs | Views
Zimbabwe's embattled leader Emmerson Mnangagwa last week declared COVID-19 a national disaster. Along with the declaration came a host of largely copycat hardline measures aimed at minimising the risk of contamination for this highly contagious disease that has all but paralyzed most of the world's biggest economies.


The declaration came barely a week after a top minister in his cabinet claimed the coronavirus pandemic was God's revenge on Western countries for the sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe. The comment has since made headlines across the world for all the wrong reasons. Moreover, the level of preparedness on the ground is not in sync with the recent verbal declarations. Great concern is with the up coming by-elections in Chiredzi Ward 16 set for 4th of April 2020 and Umzingwane Ward 14 set for 25th of April 2020.ZEC has not yet published its precautionary measures to avoid the risk of infection  during the by-elections as many will come to cast their votes for their new aspiring councillors. This has left many doubting the sincerity of the Zanu Pf government in confronting this critical issue of national importance. 
The recent declaration by President Mnangagwa barred large social gatherings of more than hundred people and travel bans on foreigners from high risk countries among other things. However to highlight Zanu Pf's never-ending contradictions, less than 48 hours after this declaration President Mnangagwa himself was breaking his own rules by adressing a rally of more than 300 people in Manicaland and also at another public event where he was reportedly launching a new irrigation pumphouse. A few days later the President was in Namibia with his large entourage for the presidential inauguration in Namibia after he issued a travel ban on government officials to travel outside the country amidst the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.  Maybe the recent rules do not apply to ZANU PF, and Mnangagwa himself.

Such has been Zimbabwe's worrisome approach to the pandemic. Many wonder if the government is even ready to tackle the disease head on as it claims. The state of our hospitals is a major cause for concern, especially with the by-elections in Chiredzi and Umzingwane. How prepared are the medical fraternity in these areas to avoid infection as people will cast their votes. Viral reports that two of Zimbabwe's biggest public hospitals, Harare Hospital and Parirenyatwa only have six ventilation machines of which only four are in working order should leave many disillusioned Zimbabweans worried. Italy, a developed first world country has struggled to cope up with COVID 19 patients in need of intensive care which has seen people dying in hundreds daily. If the disease was to hit Zimbabwe at the same magnitude as in Italy then it will be certified a total disaster that will make headlines worldwide.

The only positive news is the report that Zimbabwe is set to receive 20 000 test kits, 100 000 masks and 1 000 medical-use protective suits and face shields from Chinese billionaire Mr Jack Ma. This is part of a wide based consignment donation made available to each African country. However as much as the donation is welcome, the history of how such donations have been handled before by the ruling ZANU PF government kills any good hopes for ordinary Zimbabweans. Donations pencilled for Cyclone Idai victims in 2019 ended up in corrupt hands, and many deserving people failed to access the goods. There were also daunting reports that Zanu Pf politicised the donations, and only known Zanu Pf members had access to the donations. There is high chances the Jack Ma donations may end up benefitting only Zanu Pf elites and their connections. 
Due to this weak response to the pandemic, Zimbabwe has registered its first confimed death from COVID-19, a 30 year old Zororo Makamba. This first victim signals the great risk posed by the disease which the government must act to stop before it spreads. Continuing with by-elections under such circumstances will not do the country any favours.  It only exposes millions of citizens to great risk.
Almost half of African countries have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 including SADC member states — South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia and Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe's close neighbour South Africa has now reported multiple cases of local transmission of COVID-19 which is a major risk for Zimbabwe considering the scale of population movement between the two countries. 

As Secretary of Elections in Zapu I am cognitive of the government to put the sake of citizens as top priority in the coming By Elections. At this crucial moment we can only push the government to ensure that it intensifies its state of preparedness in dealing with COVID-19 in the coming by-elections or postpone them. The Government should put maximum visible effort in equipping medical centres, local authorities, immigration controls to effectively deal with this pandemic.

I sincerely plea with the Minister of Defense Oppah Muchinguri release a retracting statement from the contradictory inflammatory utterance she made which has created a major international uproar on news and social networks. Zimbabwe cannot afford to be fighting wars on all fronts at a time we shall be desperately in need of help from the same nations.

As Department of Secretary of Elections in ZAPU we are cognitive of the fact that only a united concerted effort can help Zimbabwe evade this pandemic altogether or defeat it in the event that we have COVID-19 positive cases in the coming by-elections.

The government should work to create conditions necessary for citizens to fight this disease. There should be visible efforts to raise hygiene and sanitation, access to health facilities and improvement in water supply. In neighbouring South Africa it has been made mandatory that hand sanitizers should be available in all public places and there will be random tests at taxi and train stations. We should take equally drastic actions if we are to come out of this threatening situation unscathed or with minimal damage as a nation.

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Benard Conrad Maguguvukazapu@gmail.comTwitter@vukazapuFacebook @vukazapuInstagram @vukazapu

Source - Magugu Benard, Zapu Secretary of Elections (NEC)

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