Prof Itai Muwati Correspondent
The marauding pandemic that has brought the world to its knees is without doubt one of the most unprecedented threats to human life in modern times.
It certainly has plunged humanity into panic mode, inaugurating a renewed sense of what it means to be human on planet earth. Questions about the future of humanity have animated conversations across the globe.
Myths about the origin of the virus have confounded men and women of erudition, with conspiracy theories, accusations and counter-accusations poisoning the air everywhere around us.
In the same vein, the genesis of Covid-19, and the horror of decimation of lives it has engendered, has surely witnessed a recrudescence of medical apartheid that reached a crescendo during slavery.
For instance, how does one account for the shocking racial bigotry and insolence arrogantly paraded by some European scientists who proposed African bodies as experimenting sites for vaccines for Covid-19?
Be that as it may, governments the world over have been stampeded into taking radical action especially given the ferocity of the pandemic. How governments have responded to the pandemic in terms of decision-making, mobilisation of resources, information dissemination, transparency and accountability has been of interest to citizens, scholars and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It is against this background that this discussion broaches the Government’s response to Covid-19 as a way of raising awareness in terms of how Zimbabwe has responded to the pandemic.
Often, when Government embarks on actions and measures to save lives, people take that for granted, dismiss such interventions as a non-event or even misinterpret that as punitive and needless.
Given the massive and full-spirited response by Government that cannot be captured here because of space limitations, the discussion highlights a few areas.
Under very difficult circumstances, exacerbated by the sanctions imposed on the country, Government has catalysed local systems and institutions to serve as a bulwark against the pandemic.
It is remarkable that Government has marshalled its authority with both celerity and alacrity.
Taking into account the gravity of the situation, and the danger posed by Covid-19 to the citizens, tough, radical and sometimes not so popular decisions and measures have had to be taken.
The incontrovertible ability to mobilise all systems in the mortal fight against the virus is an act that merits plaudits. It is a mark of people-centred, life-extending and life-furthering leadership that has epitomised the leadership of President Mnangagwa.
The swiftness of response, compared to what has happened elsewhere, for instance in the United States, has saved the nation from a possible catastrophe.
It is common knowledge today that President Donald Trump is being criticised for what US citizens view as his sluggish response to the pandemic. The decision by President Mnangagwa to, first impose a total lockdown on the nation, and then gradually opening up the economy, and then allowing some sectors to operate under strict conditions has ensured that infected individuals do not spread the disease to others.
One would have to take into account the fact that just a single case would set afire the whole nation. It has not been an easy decision. But it had to be taken all the same in order to save lives.
The consistent position from the President has been to prioritise the safety of citizens ahead of the economy.
Government’s efficient coordination and management of the containment of the pandemic has engineered massive confidence among various stakeholders. This is witnessed by the colossal outpourings of support for Government initiatives in this historic fight.
The private sector has come out in full force to support and fortify Government’s efforts, including nations such as the People’s Republic of China and the US.
Interestingly, Government has ensured transparency and accountability for all the contributions and donations, with the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services playing the vanguard in terms of ensuring that everything is declared and accounted for.
It is noteworthy that the nation has been kept well informed in terms of the pandemic.
This creates confidence among members of the public as well as donors. It rallies the national esprit de corps. At the beginning of the lockdown, President Mnangagwa went an extra mile by touring some parts of Harare and Chitungwiza, including Norton, Chegutu and Kadoma in order to ascertain its observance.
The same applies to his deputies, Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi. This is the hallmark of people-centred leadership.
It is servant leadership. An Inter-Ministerial Taskforce was put in place to superintend the entire process of managing the pandemic and providing Government with professional advice.
Through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Government has provided safety nets for the most vulnerable members of our society identified through the Social Welfare Department. An initial amount $600 million has been set aside for distribution.
In fact, people have already received payments.
This gesture should obviously stimulate more desire and involvement by other sectors of our society. Some private sector players have already chipped in to support government’s gesture.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care has acted and performed like a true custodian of our health system in the country.
It has taken nothing for granted, and has ensured that the nation is nourished with information by providing daily updates. What this has done is to allow informed conversations to take place among citizens while clearly demonstrating that the disease is certainly in Zimbabwe.
This is vital because the temptation by some citizens to misinterpret the lockdown as an unnecessary tyranny and embargo is very palpable.
Covid-19 is certainly not a myth or some concocted health fiction. It is a threat to life as the national and global statistics show.
Equally, the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development has translated Heritage-Based Education 5.0 into a living reality. This philosophy prioritises higher education that translates knowledge into usable goods and services.
The practical realisation of Heritage-Based Education 5.0 as articulated by Minister Amon Murwira is seen in what universities are currently doing.
For instance, the University of Zimbabwe is involved in the massive and industrial scale production of SAZ certified hand sanitisers, four layered reusable face masks, theatre gowns, theatre caps, disposable aprons, overshoes, disinfectants and a whole spectrum of PPEs needed in hospitals.
The industrial unit at the University of Zimbabwe has a capacity of producing more than 10 000 litres of hand sanitisers per day.
Chinhoyi University of Technology and Midlands State University are also producing face masks. This has saved the country from importing Covid-19 materials worth millions of dollars. The enduring lesson here is that Zimbabwe can indubitably prosper on the basis of its own heritage and talent. This indeed is a new look higher and tertiary education.
The Harare Institute of Technology has already produced a ventilator and can produce up to 40 of these per day.
According to Minister Murwira, NUST is producing testing equipment for Covid-19. Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University has created a prototype for a mass sanitisation booth. Of course, this has been made possible by Government’s injection of seed money and Minister Murwira’s unwavering position that higher education must produce goods and services and respond to the country’s challenges in a practical way.
Government should be commended for this renewed and invigorated spirit to ensure that the country produces what it consumes. More so at a time when various nations are under pressure to look after their own populations.
What we have witnessed so far in the era of Covid-19 should concretise Government’s clear position in terms of doing things in the nation — togetherness, accountability, transparency, access to information as well as import substitution through whetting local capacity.
What Covid-19 has done is to make this practice more pronounced in case others might have missed it. It is all of us united — the Government, citizens, business sector and civic organisations that we can overcome adversity and attain Vision 2030.
When we all speak with one voice, stand on our own feet and believe in our own capacity, there is no “limit as to where we can go.”
Prof Itai Muwati is the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Zimbabwe.