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Mutsa Murenje: COVID-19, ubuntu, and the demise of our oppressors

By Mutsa Murenje

Since the beginning of 2020, the world has been battling against the COVID-19 pandemic which has proven, time without number, to be a biomedical public health emergency. Highly transmissible, COVID-19 poses serious threats to health and life.

Mutsa Murenje
Mutsa Murenje

This is further compounded by extant vulnerabilities in many societies: pervasive poverty and structural inequalities, poor health systems, and the absence of any meaningful form of social protection, particularly in countries of the Global South.

In these nations, many citizens have limited access to basic healthcare services, while millions dwell in highly congested areas, devoid of any dignity and with little or no access to decent housing, education, water, and sanitation. In most cases, it is difficult, if not impossible, to observe social distancing under such conditions. There is, therefore, increased risk of contagion in such settings, as conditions provide not only a fertile ground for COVID-19 exposure but also transmission.

Considering the aforesaid, there can be no denying that COVID-19 caught many states and governments unprepared. While some countries had deliberately reduced their healthcare expenditure for decades, there are also copious instances where healthcare systems have suffered neglect and dilapidation due to the vitriolic actions of arrogant, corrupt, and incompetent regimes such as the one in Zimbabwe.

At the time of preparing this manuscript, Zimbabwe had recorded 70 COVID-19 induced deaths on Monday 25 January 2021, thereby bringing to 1,075 the total number of deaths to date. In addition, Zimbabwe reportedly had, at least officially, 31,646 COVID-19 cases.

In my mind, I am under no illusion whatsoever that the official statistics are understated. The Zimbabwean authorities cannot be trusted, and one can only do so at their own risk. Those in the know are aware why such an entire country has been designated as a hotspot. Many influential states have begun warning their citizens to avoid visiting Zimbabwe due to the heightened health risk it poses.

Zimbabwe’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrously weak and tragically poor, with top regime officials grossly violating lockdown regulations. For the avoidance of doubt, we are not yet out of the woods. When this pandemic broke out more than a year ago, we thought this was something whose raging fires we could expeditiously quench.

The reality, however, has taught us lessons we will never forget. No one is immune and the pandemic does not select its victims based on their gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, or political affiliation.

The implication of this is obvious: COVID-19 ought to unite and not divide us as is the case at present. Of course, this ubuntu principle is only true theoretically because people’s lived experiences determine how they respond to death and dying, especially the death of their sworn enemies and diurnal oppressors.

If there is one lesson, we have learnt from the devastation wrought by COVID-19, it is that our focus should be more on preventive public health initiatives such as provision of water and sanitation, including facilitating access to information and participation in line with nations’ human rights obligations.

In South Africa, for instance, the government has been distributing water by tanker to needy communities and informal settlements. There is also evidence that the government has been working hard only plans to procure and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

In contrast, Zimbabwe lacks competent leadership and one can only guess whether there will be any vaccine for the suffering and oppressed people there. Already, we are morbidly aware that food is frequently used as a political tool by the oppressive government. Can they be trusted to distribute the life-saving vaccine to their political opponents?

For over four decades, Zimbabweans have experienced distress due to loss of resources, belongings, separation from, or death of, loved ones and direct subjection to politically motivated violence. Increased morbidity and mortality in politically exposed persons linked to the oppressive Zanu PF has led to wild scenes of celebration, especially on social media.

It is beyond the scope of this treatise to consider the merits and demerits of such an outcome. Nonetheless, it is worth stating that such outcomes are inevitable and hardly surprising in politically polarised societies such as Zimbabwe.

Besides, Zimbabweans have the right to express themselves and that includes celebrating the demise of their oppressors. That is the only way we can raise our voices together and hold our oppressors accountable. This should also remind all oppressors that death is and remains our lowest common denominator.

In the context of the noble principles of ubuntu, our African philosophy, leaders should be responsible stewards who fairly and equitably distribute national resources. We are sick and tired of harmful, oppressive, and unfair policies and practices by the Zanu PF regime. End social exclusion, subjugation, and work earnestly to build an inclusive Zimbabwean society.

The main object of social policy is human welfare and social cohesion. We need policies that strengthen institutions to improve human well-being and security and promote inclusion and good leadership. For many of us, life no longer makes sense at all. As active opponents of the regime, we aspire for a free, just, and democratic Zimbabwe.

As Alfred C. Stepan observed, ‘[a]lthough the installation of a democratic regime scarcely heralds the end of political struggle, it does provide a new procedural setting for political life. This setting is not only more just in itself, but in most cases also offers the great masses of the people better opportunities than does authoritarianism to pursue such goals as economic equality, social justice, and political participation’.

In conclusion, treat us fairly and not cruelly. We want to be treated equally and to be allowed to vote freely for our representatives. Allow us to express ourselves freely, respectfully, and within the law.

As for those who want to lecture us on ubuntu they know nothing about, ‘[m]an’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good’ (Martin Luther King, Jr.). May God help Zimbabwe. The struggle continues unabated!

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