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Chenayi Mutambasere: Zimbabwe braces for a ‘new normal’

By Chenayi Mutambasere

So now that the world has realised cousin ‘Rona’ isn’t leaving us soon, many countries are shaping up what has been coined the new normal.

Chenayi Mutambasere (Msc Development Economics and Policy) is the MDC UK and Ireland Province Secretary for Industry and Commerce. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChenayiM
Chenayi Mutambasere (Msc Development Economics and Policy) is the MDC UK and Ireland Province Secretary for Industry and Commerce. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChenayiM

This new normal ranges from desired new practices that firms are embracing such as working from home to the potential of extended online learning of schools.

While countries have been affected differently (some the same) one thing for certain, the world has we know it will become a different place. That still no exact cure has been found for the Coronavirus is becoming a key driver in most parts for this new normal.

Public places like banks will operate differently to still allow for social distancing. Being able to see people’s lips in conversation now replaced by masks and so it goes it’s a new normal.

In the UK Gcse O-level and A level exams have been cancelled for this academic year so a generation will continue without these previous norms. While the jury is still out on how this will impact future year groups. It certainly is a new norm.

With a continued drawn out silence on strategy from government one can only hazard a guess of what ‘New Normal’ for Zimbabwe may mean.

Some may argue it’s too early to tell given WHO are still holding out for a possibility of death toll surge in Africa over the winter months – I would probably say if the course of the river is south – south it will go but perhaps the level of acceleration is what may differ. As the shona saying goes mviro mviro dzemhanza mapfeka … What are the tell tell signs showing us?

A good place to start is perhaps the political landscape. As we have learnt in Zimbabwe it’s the politics that holds the purse strings not Oxford degrees as the learned professor has perhaps gathered by now. What is the political new normal for Zimbabwe?

Sadly the recent arrest and abductions of the 3 opposition leaders is proving that politics perhaps even more than coronavirus will continue to bring the country to its knees. What was almost ironic is the abduction of the 3 female leaders came after Mthu%li submitted a Dear John letter to IMF stating that the government would change its ways so that IMF can love it again and bless it with cash gifts.

This form of alleged human rights abuse by state agents buried with it any strategic external funds availed to government without sanctions or strict conditions. You see the impact of a human rights violation on one individual has far reaching effects not just for every individual in that country but for years to come until significant reforms are made. A simple word of advice to the Oxford professor when penning love letters, actions speak way more than words.

The stated abduction of these leaders seems to have been the start of catastrophic display of disregard for human rights by the state in Zimbabwe. Ranging from Justice Minister announcing premeditated outcomes of any judicial process persecuting the leaders to the female leaders being tried from their hospital beds. It wouldn’t take a 5 year old to notice the inappropriateness of this .

Nevertheless these catastrophe’s even independent of covid will mean that Zimbabwe’s fiscus will continue to rely on fictitious surpluses. At a time when quite literally every little helps state fuelled human rights abuses will result in continued snub of financial fiscus support. The professor will write a dozen love letters still with no blesser insight.

Most businesses as a result of The covid pandemic will need to redress their business strategies which will see a scaling back of some international operations. Continued association with a ‘blacklisted’ government will seem a lot less appealing. It really isn’t a good time to be giving any investors good reasons to pull out .

Having run out of options the Governor of the Reserve Bank and Ministry of Finance have agreed on the printing of new notes. What the notes are intended on bringing is as yet unclear but for now the market seems to have rejected the idea with the exchange rate going into free fall against the dollar.

So yes expect the ‘new normal’ to have less investors and less fiscus support which ultimately means even higher inflation, increased prices and of course new-old money !

Like renewable energy and other fiscus funded projects before it Covid has become the new cash cow through government contracts. Zimbabweans should ready themselves for the new (old) Covidprenuers.

It’s astonishing that a recent letter from the Secretary of Finance authorises amongst other covid related items the purchase of N95 masks from a government supplier at US$28 which is a whooping 9 times the cheapest available unit costs. Even in South Africa where these are being imported, each unit costs c.ZAR15.

This intentional/unintentional lack of due diligence costing the taxpayer US$25 per each unit sold. Could this not have been invested in welfare to sustain lockdown? Covid has become the new cash cow from test kits to masks or any other PPE the many few will stand to benefit and enrich themselves at the expense of the general many.

Surprisingly one of the hardest hit but least talked about sectors will be education. With lockdown and social distancing measure schools remain closed. The new normal however will mean there are some pupils who have missed out on important teaching at crucial stages.

While in other parts of the world this issue has been mitigated with online learning and homeschooling a barrier for most children and schools will be access to tools that enable this. A subsidised mobile data or WiFi package would perhaps have gone some way in mitigating this issue. Whether these children will still write their national exams is still to be determined.

Enforced government lockdowns remain with some countries having phased reopening of businesses in parts. Most companies have responded to this by enabling working from home arrangements. Production or construction companies were feasible have opened but with strict health and safety measures focussed on reduction of covid transmission.

The Zimbabwe economy however relies almost 90% on informal trade – which put simply is the buying and selling of commodities mostly through street vending. Lockdown however isn’t favourable towards street trade. With citizens being asked to remain at home this inability to trade results in significant irrecoverable income losses.

Sadly this is likely to result in a new norm of highly elevated poverty levels in Zimbabwe specifically for those areas already facing high levels of deprivation. This coupled by an existing famine phase with a backdrop of lack of investment will mean that the hunger days of 2007/08 are coming.

With covid deaths happening around the world being widely reported one of the areas that has raised significant concerns has been the death of frontline hospital workers who become exposed to covid in the line of duty.

For most countries this has created a need to protect and prepare hospital care staff ensuring that they have access to the right PPE. Zimbabwe sadly in spite of having low numbers of reported cases reported still hasn’t got adequate PPE particularly in remote clinics or hospitals.

This is gravely concerning as they may be a stigma placed on patients showing signs of covid whereby health professionals wanting to protect themselves and their families aren’t willing to treat them because of Covid-19 being highly contagious.

A step back in history back to the 80s with the start of HIV shows that stigmatisation is a barrier to accessing medical services. Unfortunately for Covid-19 this in itself will mean the disease can spread more rapidly within communities.

Zimbabwe’s new normal during covid-19 points not only to government’s unpreparedness to absorb any shocks but also to government’s unwillingness to reform. The combination yielding only hunger and more hunger as the new normal for the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Chenayi Mutambasere (Msc Development Economics and Policy) is the MDC UK and Ireland Province Secretary for Industry and Commerce. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChenayiM

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