By Tafi Mhaka
In the best or worst of circumstances, no matter who you are in life, death is never gentle on the soul or body: it never discriminates.
This is how Tawanda Makamba reportedly surmised his young brother Zororo’s final moments:
“At the end before he died, he kept telling us that he was alone and scared and the staff was refusing to help him…So this is how my younger brother ended up dying. I want people to know the government is lying.”
These painful words sound so familiar, as Zimbabwe is a cesspit of relentless, quiet death, government inaction and fatal betrayal.
While many patients have died in hospital, thousands have taken their last breaths at home, surrounded by family, deeply frustrated, expressively hurt and physically broken by the lack of medical care at hospitals.
Thousands have lain still, unclaimed in mortuaries and buried as unknowns after crossing the Limpopo River to find a living.
And thousands have died abroad, while seeking to avoid substandard medical care at home and elongate their lives.
Yet, because of the complicated, diverse nature of death, it is always difficult to explain how hard the last 20 years have been for ordinary Zimbabweans.
Zororo’s death, however, does provide us with fresh perspective on how poor leadership has led to the breakdown of a functional health system and robbed young men and women of productive lives.
In the days leading to Makamba’s death, the government displayed amazingly insensitive and laidback disdain for the COVID-19 pandemic.
To begin with, Oppah Muchinguri described it as “God’s punishment to the West”, and presidential communications chief George Charamba, despite the humble origins of COVID-19 in a Chinese food market in Wuhan, claimed it is “a disease for the affluent”.
Then President Emmerson Mnangagwa defied WHO’s advice and international wisdom on containing COVID-19 through social distancing by pointlessly and selfishly attending President Hage Geingob’s inauguration in Windhoek.
And Health Minister played a principal role in the medical fiasco that preceded Zororo’s death.
The actual petrifying details pertaining to his death, as described by Zororo’s elder brother, paint a web of insurmountable confusion, fear and grand incompetence on the part of hospital officials, the health minister and Mnangagwa.
Nobody in government, or the health sector, it seems, is prepared to deal with a small or sweeping outbreak of the Coronavirus.
But, should we be surprised by the government’s appalling actions?
Government officials, after all, have long shunned our local hospitals, well aware that all are not equipped to handle serious medical cases.
So, amid this painful chapter, it is time to ask: why are the children of Zanu-PF leaders and elites disturbingly quiet about the miserable state of the public health sector in Zimbabwe?
Why are Zanu-PF-affiliated businesspersons, people like Zororo’s father, James Makamba, mum on Zimbabwe’s tough, downward trajectory?
And while life is so obviously hard, why is everyone so calm and restrained?
Is everyone so confident they won’t end up in a position similar to Zororo tomorrow?
Considering the threat of COVID-19, together with a rundown health sector, I, quite honestly, fear for my family’s physical wellbeing right now.
And I feel sorry for the Makamba family.
I feel sorry for Zororo.
I really do.
He deserved better.
He deserved everything rewarding in life: longevity, professional achievement, children, family and happiness for the longest time possible on earth.
But much to his fatal disadvantage, he has become the agonising face of Zanu-PF indifference to the plight of the poor: an unfortunate, innocent victim of the warped political system that made his father rich and influential.
Now, naturally, is the time to engage in honest, brutal and progressive introspection.
While it must promote capitalism and nurture moguls, to create well-paying jobs, Zimbabwe also needs to establish a just and progressive society, a place where the poor and rich alike have affordable access to basic goods and services and proper medical care and social services.
Yet, whichever way you look at Zimbabwe’s present situation and whether you voted for the MDC or the ruling party in July 2018, Zanu-PF has long-failed to do that.
So I find it disappointing that James Makamba has stuck with Zanu-PF for so long.
Despite ubiquitous signs of failure, repression, murder, death and economic chaos, and despite attempts by government to ostracise him and forcibly take his business interests away, after he returned from self-imposed exile in South Africa in December 2017, James Makamba decided he wanted to become an MP for Zanu-PF.
He didn’t stand up for the oppressed.
He didn’t advocate against corruption.
He didn’t call for a speedy revival of our dilapidated health sector.
He didn’t call for Zanu-PF to undertake extensive reforms and get US and EU sanctions lifted.
He didn’t call for a free and fair election.
No, he didn’t stand with the people.
Instead, he attempted to represent Zanu-PF in parliament and remain a part of a lucrative patronage network.
That’s right, he opted to support the discredited political party which would abandon Zororo in his darkest hour.
Yet, as people have often said, should a medical emergency occur, the rich won’t always have sufficient time to fly abroad for medical care.
So the wealthy must realise that not one person alive today is immune to Zanu-PF’s abundant failings.
We need all hands on deck to build a nation that everyone, rich or poor, can survive in, feel safe in and be tremendously proud of.
Come what may, we have to make Zimbabwe work for everyone.
Rest In Peace Zororo Makamba.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, will be published in 2020.