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Covid-19 crisis: Can corporate leaders stand up and be counted!

02 Aug 2021 at 19:21hrs | Views
Zimbabwe has undergone several crises over the years and each time disaster strikes, citizens have been known to put aside their differences - real or imagined - to put out the fire.

It is through this unity of purpose in the face of a crisis that the ruthless Ian Smith regime was dismantled to pave way for majority rule. It is also through strength in numbers that communities and nations around the world, Zimbabwe especially, have been able to overcome some of the biggest threats to the health of their populations.

Here in Zimbabwe, the boomers and millennials will recall that it was as if the world was coming to an end when the HIV pandemic hit the country in the early 80s.

Were it not for a common sense of purpose in raising public awareness about the virus and encouraging those who had been infected by it to take up treatment, HIV could have infected and killed more people beyond the current 1,4 million citizens who are living with the virus which causes Aids and the 20,000 Aids-related deaths that have been recorded in the past 40 years.

It was the same story when cholera broke out in 2008. By the time the highly infectious disease was contained in 2009, an estimated 4,000 people had succumbed to it out of the 98,585 cases that were recorded.

Of all these crises, none of them has been as catastrophic as the Covid-19 pandemic, which is leaving a trail of human carnage across the globe.

Zimbabwe has not been spared by the virus. As of the 26th of July, Covid-19 had infected about 100,000 people with 3173 having succumbed to the respiratory disease.

Despite its well-known financial limitations, the Government of Zimbabwe has confounded critics by investing heavily in awareness campaigns, enforcing World Health Organisations guidelines, and inoculating its citizens as it moves towards achieving herd immunity by the end of the year.

As of the 26th of July, about 1,5 million people had received their first dose, with nearly 687,000 having received both jabs of either Sinopham or Sinovac vaccines.

Notwithstanding, it is going to take much more than Zimbabweans showing a united front to win against the cruel Covid-19 pandemic.

Even as government has demonstrated leadership in fighting the scourge, bodies that represent industry and commerce have been conspicuous by their deafening silence.

How many times have we heard the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries appearing on radio or television to spread the word about Covid-19? I also don't recall the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce coming up with public programmes aimed at mobilising citizens to get vaccinated in their numbers. I would say the same of the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe and other professional associations.

What that goes to show is that there is either a dearth of leadership in these associations or that they are being constrained by resources. I am, however, not convinced that it has anything to do with resources seeing how these organisations suddenly come alive when government has done something they don't agree with.

Crucially, it doesn't cost much to produce video clips or skits on Covid-19 for posting on their digital and social media platforms. Put simply, the leaderships in these associations have gotten their priorities mixed up.

Regardless, it was a breath of fresh air to see a few executives in the private sector who are demonstrating strong leadership during these extraordinary times that require extraordinary leadership.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe (EWZ) founder, Mr Strive Masiyiwa, has emerged amongst the few African voices on the global stage who are saying all the right things about the plight of the African continent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While many would have wanted Mr Masiyiwa to speak out more about the situation in his country of birth, one draws comfort from the various interventions that EWZ has made in the wake of the HIV, cholera and now the Covid-19 pandemics.

Equally pleasing was to hear Nyaradzo Group founder, Mr Philip Mataranyika, breaking the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers' ear-piercing silence about the third wave through a video recording that has since gone viral on social media.

In the six-minute long video clip, the businessman who seemed to have adopted a new-look by spotting an uncharacteristic beard spoke about the end-of-life industry as having been overwhelmed by Covd-19 related deaths, resulting in delays in burials which may get worse if we don't take heed of calls to observe safety protocols. This is despite the incredible investments made by the industry over the years to increase capacity at morgues.

What was particularly refreshing about Mr Mataranyika's appeal was his ability to rise above institutional interests for the greater good, going to the extent of defending a competitor in the wake of a recent incident whereby Doves Funeral Services gave a Bulawayo family the wrong body for burial. Fortunately, the mistake was corrected after alert family members raised the red flag.

"I urge all of you my fellow countrymen and women to continue to exercise patience and restraint as we may have the temptation to be harsh with our service providers when service delivery could be slow. Before we become harsh and angry, we must remember that our service providers are human beings who themselves are susceptible also to the virus.

"They too have families and relatives who may have died. Some of them are at work only because it is their calling even when they were down only recently and rushed back to work to serve. Because we have so many dead, mistakes such as body swaps may be made. Fellow countrymen and women, I want you to know that this is not deliberate. Don't we all make mistakes?

"If we do, why do we think a mistake by someone working in the end of life industry, especially in a pandemic situation, is unforgivable. I know Zimbabweans to be tolerant and loving, and it is to this our better angels I am appealing. As we plead to you for your love and tolerance, we pledge to do all we can to lay our loved ones to rest in dignity and with respect," said Mr Mataranyika.

How many entrepreneurs would have rushed to the defence of their competitors when they have clearly messed up? The instinct in most of us would have been to capitalise on the error in order to inflict maximum damage and pain. But at what cost to an industry that is in the midst of a crisis?

More leaders need to emerge from corporate Zimbabwe to compliment government's efforts in fighting the Covid-19 crisis in order to create an environment whereby business becomes sustainable.

Although the Covid-19 crisis can generate enormous overflows for corporate leaders, it must not stop them from showing empathy towards their stakeholders and collaborating closely and openly with them. No amount of pressure should also stop corporate leaders from going that extra mile to be the light of the world because their stakeholders will never forget what they did at this crucial time for the world.

In times of crisis like these, communication with stakeholders is crucial as it motivates them to make even greater efforts to get the nation out of the crisis. When contending with a crisis like the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, leaders can easily fall into the trap of waiting for the situation to clarify how they should act and downplaying the threat in order to reassure people. It always turns out that these instincts mean failing the Covid-19 leadership test.

Passing that test requires leaders to act in an urgent, honest, and iterative fashion, recognizing that mistakes are inevitable and correcting course - not assigning blame. The Covid-19 crisis is also teaching us that sustainable business practices should persuade corporate leaders to take up awareness campaigns and come up with strategies and programmes to get more people (not just their employees) to be vaccinated, while also using digital technologies to avoid exposing their customers and employees to the virus.

It is also possible for corporate leaders to take a long-term view and systemic approach to addressing poverty, to forge new corporate alliances and inclusive business models for the common good, and to disrupt and transform failing systems of public service provision and value creation.

Nathan Chikara is an economist with a South African-based insurance firm. He writes here in his personal capacity. For feedback, e-mail to

Source - Nathan Chikara
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