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Isolated in Hell right next door to Heaven: The solitary mind of a Zimbabwean youth 

Tiny Tinashe Kamvura

14 April 2020

I know a lot of people will be amazed by my choice of words but if you have lived in a country like Zimbabwe your whole life and have South Africa as your next-door neighbour, you would understand. Normally when you hear about Zimbabwe on the news wherever you are, its usually the following greatest hits:

Doctors and Nurses go on strike”
“Hundreds die of Typhoid “
“Poverty and Hunger rock Zimbabwe”
And my personal favourite “Government official charged with corruption”.

Zimbabwe hasn’t had beautiful stories in a long time. Yes, we have the majestic Victoria Falls but stories, NO! So, you can only imagine what it’s like living in a country like Zimbabwe in a time like this, knowing that death is no longer on your doorstep but has moved in and is keeping you company.

A friend of mine said to me right before the 21-day nationwide lockdown, that the corona virus was going to reveal a lot about this country, well the truths that we have been ignoring really. And it has done just that. It has brought to focus the real societal issues that have been bedevilling our once great nation for decades and now that we have got a catastrophe staring us in the face, we cannot help but feel anxious and afraid.

Despite the government having introduced a raft of measures meant to prevent the virus from spreading, the major highlight being the 21-day lockdown which they implemented after unending cries from the civil society and the death of a local celebrity. While these are commendable there are a few stubborn realities we must face.

Zimbabweans can’t really afford to stay at home!

When I say this statement, I do not only refer to the people out there, but I am referring to myself too. Over 80% of the Zimbabwean population is not formally employed which means most people do not have a steady income they can rely on. Even those for who do manage to get a regular pay cheque it normally is not enough to afford them the luxury of staying at home. Take the civil servants for example, a few days before the 21 days lockdown commenced primary health care nurses were threatening to go on strike over poor salaries. Doctors have been at it for years now and so have the teachers too. Everyone now has a side hustle that they pursue when they are not on the clock. My own mother is a nurse and a cross border trader at the same time.

We are a poverty-stricken country where most of us have taken to street vending and black market forex dealing for survival. Hand to mouth has become the norm in this country. Families survive on less than a dollar a day. Pensioners earn less than US$20 per month which is supposed to take care of them and their grandchildren whose parents probably died of HIV and the kids probably living with HIV too. It just isn’t possible. It’s really sad and painful to say this, but the people just cannot afford to stay at home not because we don’t want to, but because if we do, we might starve to death. It’s like a double-edged sword there is no escaping it.

These pictures were taken at Mbare Musika Harare’s biggest and most popular vegetables market on the 10th day of the nationwide lockdown. The market had previously closed but was recently reopen (Photo credit: Open Parly Zw)

Is our public health sector really ready for this???

One of the causes of the stalemate between health care workers and the government over the never-ending strike is the issue of improvement of their working conditions and service provision in the country’s public health facilities.  There are medication shortages, outdated and broken-down equipment, and of course the issue of poor salaries. Even our government officials do not use government hospitals when they fall sick, they would fly to South Africa. Sure, the government has been encouraging its citizens to wash their hands and exercise extreme hygiene at all times, but the irony in that is that most suburbs in Zimbabwe do not have clean running water to begin with. Some haven’t had some in years. As of 13 April 2020, the ministry of health had conducted only 604 tests which is rather low for a country of over 14 million. Most of the designated isolation centres that the government is setting up are not yet complete due to the lack of resources. And to be honest for a country that is in the 21st century especially one such as ours which has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, some of the isolation centres that are being set up really don’t do it for me. Honestly its stuff that you would expect to find in war torn countries and not in a peaceful and supposedly progressive country like ours. 

These pictures were posted on Twitter by the Permanent Secretary for Information on 10 April 2020. This is the scene of a temporary isolation centre at Gweru Hospital in the midlands part of Zimbabwe. There are more just like these being set up across the country [Photo credit: Twitter @nickmangwana]

This is a serious wakeup call

For many Zimbabweans like myself this global pandemic is a massive wakeup call and a call to arms not only to the government but to the entire nation. A chance to reassess the situation. I live in a country that is famous for being corrupt where you hear of state funds being diverted for personal use and food aid as a political leverage. You shall forgive me for sounding a bit political, but sometimes turning to politics is the only way.  We are quite lucky the corona virus has not hit us as hard as it has hit other countries, but we cannot keep in relying on luck. Now more than ever do we need sound, transparent and action-oriented leadership.

This is a call for us as a people to find one another, unite and together with one voice move towards rebuilding our country. As the corona virus has shown, the struggle is not between this and that political party but it’s us against the world. Had we been prepared on all fronts there wouldn’t be this much fear and panic that have gripped the entire nation. As hard as it is to admit this is all on us. Might I remind us that we are that country that famously “misplaced” fifteen billion dollars and did nothing about it.  We have stood by and watched as the country has disintegrated into pieces and yet we remain silent. And what have we gotten in return for our silence and good behaviour; a potential Hiroshima on our hands. I may have not seen our country’s glory days, but I have witnessed my people’s capacity for good and it is high time we do good by ourselves and have the courage to make the necessary changes no matter how long and hard the road may be. Our lives literally depend on it!


Well Life Goes On…

We at the Friendship Bench have taken up the fight in the war against this global threat having recognized the toll it’s going to take on people. Knowing fully well how anxious and depressed people can be in times like these, it is now more than ever that psychology is needed on the front lines. As the Friendship Bench we have gone digital and are now offering our counselling services online. All one has to do is contact us by call or via social media (Facebook Twitter, WhatsApp) and you can have one of our in-house counsellors assist you. And that is not all, the online platform is not only limited to Zimbabwe but is open to the entire world. So, whenever you need a friend to talk to wherever you are just give us a ring and we will be there to listen.

Find us on:

Views and opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own.

Tiny Tinashe Kamvura

Tiny Tinashe Kamvura is a research project coordinator at the Friendship Bench and is currently studying towards his Masters in Community Psychology at the Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. His research interests are in health system strengthening in low-income countries in Sub Sahara Africa and Political Theory. Tiny has been working at the Friendship Bench since 2016 where he started as an intern.