By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
The news is that South Africa has millions of vials of the Covid-19 drug that they might not be able to use after all. Not that they do not want to, but because of a confluence of a series of unfortunate events: a sample of cases showed that a majority of their cases are the so-called ‘South African variant”; the drug seems to be only 22 percent effective against those and, it expires in April.
The expiry is probably not a problem, if the drug was useful, by April all of it would be in people’s arms. Besides, drugs expire all the time, and when that happens, the authorities typically check with the manufacturer if they can extend the lifespan of said drug and in more cases than not, this is done. Or so I am told: in this era of pandemics and viruses we are all epidemiologists and virologists now.
For example, using my newly acquired expertise I can tell you that the South African results mean that out of every 100 vaccinated people, only 22 would be protected against mild disease, which might be very useful for those 22, but is never going to give you herd immunity. Or, have I told you the one about my theory on Remdesivir….., okay, perhaps not now.
It is not the events in South Africa that trouble me. No, my concerns are closer to home, and they have nothing to do with the South Africans and their cache of potentially useless vaccines. What worries me is something that caused a small fuss then died away because we got carried away with some lovers’ quarrel over 18 children and how many people are allowed in a bed and using which entrance….you see, useless stuff.
Our Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube, is an economist first. He is no politician – otherwise he would not have gone around writing a budget that speaks about austerity given that the party in government did not campaign on austerity, the opposition did! And this economist, a good one, said very clearly that we would need to buy our own vaccines.
Then he got in trouble with his bosses, who made clear that they want him, as Minister of Finance, to know that they want people to get the vaccine for free. Then he said he was misquoted. Although he had said it on video! How do you misquote someone speaking on video and saying “people will have to buy their own vaccine” I wonder?
I think I know Zimbabwe very well. And our people. And that fills me with a lot of fear as far as Covid-19 is concerned.
You see, I am an old man. Old enough to have seen (well, heard on ZBC Radio 2) Moses Chunga’s debut for Dynamos. Old enough to remember when Sunday Marimo used to play and that horror at Eiffel Flats happened. Old enough to recall a time when you did not start school because of your age, but your ability to touch your left ear with the palm of your right hand with said hand going over the middle of your head.
And throughout that time, our people have always had one problem: over promising and not delivering.
Smith promised his Rhodesians that the blacks would not defeat him and take over the country, not for a thousand years. He did not even last 15. And don’t get me started on a certain advocate who, in 2018, gave a press conference saying “power will be taken, power will be seized,” then flailing as he tried to “pith” and “fulcrum” his candidate into power. But, these are cheap examples. Let’s look at ones closer to home, because the opposition does not, after all, have a role to play in our Covid-readiness.
Then there was a time when we were going to host the Africa Cup of Nations. Like, definitely going to do that. It was going to be our first appearance there, having failed to qualify in like forever and realising that our only chance was by hosting the damn thing.
Until the last minute we really thought everything was in the bag. This allowed us to ignore the warning signs: there was no work being done at any of the stadiums for example, nothing at all, just inspections. You don’t recall? Well, that is because it was such a long time ago but, do you want to know why there is one hundred percent proof that I am telling the truth: we have never hosted the Africa Cup of Nations. Ever.
Then there was that time we were going to co-host the world cup with South Africa. Or at least have some of the warm up games, you know. Again, we ignored the warning signs: the South Africans never mentioned us in their merchandising.
Instead, the brazenly advertised the Victoria Falls as being one of the things visitors to South Africa could see, without any mention of Zimbabwe. At all. There was a sum total of zero warm up games in Zimbabwe, zero, but we thought there would be, right up to that Mexico v South Africa game.
Then came that time when we were finally going to end our dependency on foreign oil (didn’t Barack Obama campaign on that issue?) through the jatropha biodiesel project. The whole country was agog with excitement, we were all going to be very rich from planting this thing that would be running our cars and such.
We ignored all the warning signs: no country on earth runs on jatropha. On and on until whoever proposed the idea found new stories to arrest our attention, then quietly went for medical attention in Singapore. (By the way, what witchery makes a Shona person go get treatment in a place that in his language is clearly called kusingapore?)
Now, we are told by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Mines that we are a country swimming in money. We have been told about the US$4.2 billion mega deal at Karo Resources. We have oil in Muzarabani. Bravura have a US$1 billion platinum project nearby. That is following hot on the footsteps of those mega deals that RGM signed in China, remember?
Lest we forget, we are the nation that promised an export market for……you guessed it: zvihuta. A whole country sent on a craze and a promise, and it too just disappeared. Shiri. Tinotambiwa nesu muno, and the signs are always there. We just ignore them.
And, wasn’t it only last year that we saw ventilators being displayed, people walking in PPE to tour hospitals just to show that we had said PPE? Were we not promised tests on demand and the lot, and shown Covid-ready hospitals by the dozen? Then the DJ was caught with his finger in the cookie jar, and we knew it was obvious all along, we just chose to ignore it.
Anyway, back to now. We are ignoring the warning signs. We are told that there is US$100m for the vaccine. Presumably because Mthuli says there is: he is, after all, the person who holds the pursue. But, here is the thing. Mthuli would not have said that people would pay for their own vaccines if the country was swimming in money now, would he?
This is what I think: all that talk about a surplus is someone’s way of explaining a concept that means something in their field but allowing people to think what they want because he knows that what they will think is going to make them happy. We all hear “surplus” and we think there is a bank somewhere were there is a pot of money sitting there waiting to be used, when all it is just an accounting concept – we have so much debt and interest payments on said debt and no-one would have money sitting somewhere doing nothing. There is no pot of money somewhere, get that.
But Mthuli has the country convinced that we have a surplus (he knows what he means, we think he means something else), but soon after he walked back his “buy your own vaccine or die” comments, he was back with the begging hat, asking for anything, even ecocash, to buy the vaccines. You are reminded of that 1980s oldie: “itai cent cent, mundibatsirewo, inini ndachona….” Like the time when we ignored all the warning signs, we are doing it now.
We have seen reports that the WHO was negotiating for the drug be sold at around US$5.00 to African countries. US$100m would be enough to buy 20 million vials of the vaccine at $5.00 each, no? Thats enough to vaccinate 10 million people twice, the same number that we have heard we need to achieve herd immunity. Mthuli’s ministry has said that we have this money. The US$100.00m.
So, I ask you, if we have enough money to buy a double dose vaccine for 10,000,000 people, why did Mthuli say that people will need to buy their own vaccine? And why did the clarification statement need to be equivocal and not say “no one will buy the vaccine”? And why, soon after having to walk back the statement about buying our own vaccine, did the Minister suddenly start begging for help, saying he would take anything, anything really, because every little helps?
I do not know, but I have a very strong feeling of deja vu here. That we have been down this road before. That we have been promised things that did not happen.
Except that this time, people are going to die. And, writing this statement, my heart trembles to think that people might quote this at my funeral. Because, unfortunately, based on what we have seen in the past, I do not think that there is a vaccine coming.
People are going to die. We, the people.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling Zanu PF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka