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Mr President, We Deserve Better

24 Jan 2021 at 12:52hrs | Views
On 24 August 2018, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled that Zanu PF leader Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa had been legitimately elected as President of Zimbabwe, effectively ending the challenge by the then MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa. That proclamation effectively made Mr Mnangagwa the President of every Zimbabwean regardless of whether one voted for or against him.

The last year has been especially difficult for Zimbabwe. The discovery of Covid19 and its subsequent spreading across the globe did not spare Zimbabwe. President Mnangagwa imposed a 21-day lockdown from 30 April 2019. This was after the country had closed its borders on 23 March 2019, seeking to stop any infections that would be brought in by returning residents and other travellers. At the time, the country had witnessed one Covid19 related death and five infections.

That the lockdown was necessary, is beyond debate. Life is precious. The issue that emerged before and during the lockdown, was the absence of a safety net for ordinary citizens.

Zimbabwe has a very high unemployment rate. A huge majority of the urban population is surviving on vending and the informal sector. Most of these families live on hand to mouth incomes with absolutely no savings to be relied upon in the event of downtime in their income generation activities. The impact of a lockdown was therefore catastrophic to most urban dwellers. In fact, hunger and bills drove many people back to the streets to hustle for their families.

As the year wore on, social restrictions remained in place though they were not enforced strictly. In the same period, the virus continued to circulate and mutate. Border rules were not enforced as stated in the Statutory Instrument guiding Covid19 rules. In high density communities, there were no police and gatherings proceeded as people wished. It was in this state that we got to November, when an apparently mutated and stronger strain of the virus started killing more people.

With the situation becoming more dire, the President proceeded to take an annual leave on 1 January 2021 leaving the nation under Vice President Chiwenga, who was already doubling as the Minister of Health and Child Care. With all due respect, Minister Chiwenga was already a questionable deployee in that portfolio. Surely, a country in crisis needed a full-fledged, fully qualified doctor to take up the challenge of fighting the virus.

While President Mnangagwa was on leave, the numbers of virus infections and deaths escalated quickly and began infecting members of his cabinet and stalwarts of his party, amongst the many citizens who were being infected and others dying. In fact, on 7 January 2021, the TimesLive featured an article headlined, "Emmerson Mnangagwa urged to cut holiday as Covid19 spirals in Zimbabwe." I was one of the many who were also calling for the President to return into office and help charter the nation through the dark period.

It was not until 21 January 2021 that the President saw it fit to cut his leave. Even then, he was cutting his leave not because of the crisis that the nation was facing but according to The Herald headline of the day, "President cuts leave for today's joint burial of ex-fighters." What message is the President sending to all other Zimbabweans, including those who have lost friends and relatives to this virus while he was on leave?


First, there is no rule that says the President must appoint only Ministers from his party. In fact, our country experienced better stability and economic progress during the GNU. We are all seeing how the winner-take-all system of governance is creating huge chasms in other countries, America being case in point. The appointment of the first Minister of Health Dr Obadiah Moyo was a gross error that ended with egg all over the government. To this day we are feeling the effects of this decision. There are numerous other citizens who are supremely qualified and could have served us better. On that note, Dr Francis Ndowa comes to mind. He has worked at the highest level in WHO and would be an asset to the country in that portfolio.

Second, there was need to create a safety net of some kind for citizens during the lockdowns. There may be challenges with monetary distributions but there are a lot of instruments that government could have put in place to alleviate the suffering of the citizens. The 2% transaction tax could have been scrapped. Prices of basic commodities could have been subsidised. A coupon system could have been created for marginalised communities.

Third, it was most irresponsible to go on annual leave when the country was in such a precarious state. At that precise moment, international developments were happening on creation of a vaccine. On 9 November 2020, Pfizer had announced it had a promising vaccine. At that very moment, we as citizens expected that our Health Ministry through the President was making all efforts to be at the head of the distribution list in Africa. After all, by then, figures were showing a serious uptick in infections. It took the President more than two months to say anything about a vaccine and only then to inform the nation that a vaccine will come. It is simply not good enough Mr President.

Fourth, leaders lead by example. Key figures in Zanu PF have been allowed to flout Covid19 regulations creating super-spreader events. Zanu PF itself conducted District elections and on that weekend, convoys of loaded trucks were up and about all over Zimbabwe with people campaigning or celebrating. It is inevitable that many in the society will then think the virus is a joke and also proceed to break the regulations. Let the law be for everyone. This virus does not wear a political jacket.

Fifth and most importantly, real work is found in co-creation. The President should create a bi-partisan Covid19 Taskforce covering all key sectors of the economy as well including our illustrious sons and daughters in the diaspora like Strive Masiwa and Danai Gurira. The Taskforce can then have thematic teams like Social Welfare, Vaccine Sourcing, Vaccine Distribution, Fundraising, etc. We got the first round wrong and we cannot repeat the mistake of abusing resources again.

We, the citizens, know that the President has a team that can keep things moving in his absence. However, in a time of crisis, the President must take the reigns of government and use his immense gravitas and contacts to resolve issues. The voice of the President goes into offices beyond that of any other government official. As of now, the President would not be talking of harnessing resources, that would have been done already. People are dying.

Lastly, we the citizens must face one truth. Surviving this virus is a task for every citizen. The virus does not move on its own, we give it agency,  we make it move. If we stop moving, we will also stop the virus. Realistically, we will only see the vaccine arriving around April 2021. With no plan being mentioned on distribution, marginalised citizens can realistically expect to receive the vaccine around July of this year. We have a lot of ground to cover. You have in your hands, not only your life, but the life of friends and family. STOP THE VIRUS.

Fungai Chiposi is a community development activist and citizen of Zimbabwe. He can be reached on

Source - Fungai Chiposi
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