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OPINION: Lockdown without income replacement- Zim got it wrong

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Rawlings Magede

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently announced a 21 day national lockdown that will take effect from 30 March 2020.The lockdown seeks to minimize the risk of Covid -19 infection by ensuring that movements are restricted. Several measures have been put in place to ensure that during this lockdown, critical services are kept running. For all its worth, the lockdown makes sense for a country like Zimbabwe where the number of tests for Covid-19 being done under the supervision of the Ministry of health hovers between 300-350 people. This is a very small number in a country that heavily relies on imports from neighbouring South Africa. While the authorities can revel in the cold comfort that the country has a low rate of infection as compared to other countries, the rate at which authorities are testing for the virus will in the long run prove otherwise.

No one trusts the government!

Before the country recorded any corona related deaths, the government yet again went on a public relations offensive by announcing to the world that it was ready to assist China in the fight against corona virus. Such a reckless statement was done without full comprehension of the biting effects of the pandemic .Added to this, the pronouncement was also hypocritical given that country’s public health infrastructure is in shambles. In past national budgets, government misplaced priorities have been exposed aptly demonstrated by allocating substantial budget allocations towards Ministries such as defence and home affairs while underfunding health and social welfare. This is a story for another day. I am not chasing this today.

Today my heart bled as I saw some photos from Mutare doing rounds on social media. The first photo has a police truck loading some confiscated wares from vendors. In another photo, piles of vegetables (possibly from vendors) are being set alight by some unidentified man. While as a country we need to collectively institute preventative measures to contain the spread of the novel virus, our government got it all wrong when it instituted a 21 day lock day without considering a number of factors..The pronouncement was not well thought as it ignored some economic realities such as the fact that the majority of citizens rely on the informal sector for sustenance. What is worrying about Zimbabwe is the “copy and paste” approach by government especially during desperate times. In the case of South Africa, a total lockdown made sense given the country’s population demographics. Added to this, in Southern Africa, South Africa tops the list in covid-19 infections.

As the virus continues to torment governments across the world, it has however become apparent that not all countries can adopt the same responsive mechanisms. Developed countries have a wide range of options aimed at not only strengthening their health systems but also of ensuring that their economies do not slide into an abyss during this period. Several western countries have instituted lockdowns with income replacement where governments pay companies to keep their workers and in some instances offer direct cash transfers to people .Countries that are doing this include Denmark and Canada. This approach however though expensive has been hailed by many as effective in slowing the spread of the virus. On the other hand, developing countries (especially those in Africa) are beset by a myriad of challenges in responding to the virus. These range from little or no adequate resources to respond and a dilapidated health infrastructure.

The lockdown announced by our own government is a lockdown without income replacement. This approach in a country dominated by the informal sector is not sustainable in the long run. How will government cushion vendors and other players within the informal sector? In the case of the vendors who had their wares burnt, how are they going to recover from such loses? While it appears that such action is necessary during desperate times like this, it runs the risk of people going hungry and further worsens the rate of economic traction. While government recently announced a ZW$100 million and US$2 million facility under the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to cushion about a million urban households, the plan appears rushed again as the announcement was not followed up by a comprehensive criteria that will be used in the identification of beneficiaries. Added to this, the announcement was just general as it failed to mark a distinction between workers in the formal and informal sector.

In the final analysis, the 21 day lockdown was not well thought out by the responsible authorities. How will the informal sector be part of a 21 day lockdown when it is the only source of income for them? For businesses that pay rentals, how are they going to cope in light of the lockdown? Was not government supposed to conduct a sectorial mapping and analysis and come with measures that ensure that those in the informal sector are also catered for? I leave this to you dear reader.

Rawlings Magede is a Communications for Development expert who writes here in his personal capacity. Feedback on vamagede@gmail.com

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31