By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
It is often claimed that Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa. That among our youths it is 99%, and around 95% for adults. Largely because to me these figures mean nothing, I have not bothered to check the research that went into it: though I know for a fact that I have never once talked to anyone that was carrying out a survey on literacy. Maybe there is a way they work out these things, ways which those of us who studied “ngano” instead of statistics perhaps cannot know.
Be that as it may, I suppose it is our literacy that makes us all virologists, epidemiologists and other -gists having to do with infectious diseases. The amount of information we have on the coronavirus is staggering.
In fact, so prevalent is the information that even ministers of religion are pontificating about the deep questions that the pandemic raises: “are you sure that the vaccine we are getting in Africa is the same as the one they have in Europe?” The subtle meaning there is clear: the Europeans have created a vaccine for themselves, and have sent a dud to us, so that we all perish. Quite why they have done this is never stated.
In this exchange of wisdom, facts are secondary. The more outlandish the claim, the greater its resale value.
When the country took delivery of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, newly minted vaccine experts theorised that we were being volunteered as guenia pigs. They will not take it themselves, it was said of our politicians.
When the Minister of Health (who is also the Vice President) went to get the vaccine as other world leaders have done, the tune changed: he only got a shot of water, they said. Apparently, the same man that millions hailed as the bravest Zimbabwean in November 2017 was now so afraid of mutating into a Chinese speaker (another claim) that he went through the charade of having water pumped into his body. To what end, they did not say.
With uptake so slow, the naysayers were in celebratory mode, until of course a few other real people with no access to a water shot (including myself) went to get the vaccine shots. Then the -gists changed their tone: too many people who are not nurses or firemen are getting the vaccine! We are finishing it all for our nurses!
Lost to many is the paradox of claiming that the vaccine was a dud and then crying that it was being depleted: why worry about the depletion of water? Why worry about the depletion of a weapon for the mass destruction of the African race? Shouldn’t the mood be celebratory that people are going to die from the shots? Obviously, the reaction is because they know that the vaccine is real and that it works.
The world over, vaccination programs are being ramped up, in the face of a mutating virus that threatens to forever alter the way we live. Scientists (of the variety that went to school, not those that took their qualifications on social media) warn that we should be vigilant, we should take the vaccine and carry on being careful.
But those that have become experts tell us that we are taking on the curse of Geaz, whose family supposedly got leprosy somewhere in the Old Testament. Others refer to the document you get after being vaccinated as the ‘Mark of the Beast’ ala Revelations, a book in the Christian New Testament. Of course, people get this ‘vaccine passport’ in all countries, even those where Christianity is not the religion. Naturally, adherents think that their scriptures apply to all, including those who have their own religions and are living at peace with their gods.
Lost to many is the obvious fact that none of those spreading vaccine skepticism have publicly said that they will not take the vaccine. Lost too is the fact that many people who initially claimed that the vaccine was a dud are in the forefront of challenging the government list of priority, and attacking the government for not buying enough vaccine. Clearly these positions are not congruent.
It was Charles Ray, a US Ambassador, who lamented that our youths are obsessed with politics and not useful activity.
At the turn of the millennium, a certain political party had a policy that its members should not apply for land during the land reform exercise. They would do it better once in government, they said. Their members obliged, and most did not apply. As their leaders start dying, we find out that they in fact did apply for land, and got the same.
History might be repeating itself. The amount of politicking around the vaccine is toxic. People who oppose the government will stoop to making unfounded claims about the vaccines’ alleged dangers just so that they further their political opposition to the incumbent government. The lies they spread will influence those that follow them to eschew the vaccines, and in some cases with dire consequences.
While there is no crime against telling people not to apply for land resettlement and the consequences are merely that your supporters will not have land, the stakes are a tad higher when it comes to the vaccine. A lot of people will die when they do not need to.
Despite not being surveyed, I am part of the alleged literate majority and the biggest gift I have given myself is to read scientific papers on the vaccines. Not someone’s opinion. Certainly not the opinions of people I have never met and whose medical qualifications are from WhatsApp chain messages and Dr Google. Based on what I read from scientific journals, as well as a clear understanding of what is an “essential worker” in terms of current legislation, I simply walked to a vaccination centre and asked to be vaccinated. With the amount of vaccine skepticism we have sown in this literate nation, there will be enough for all that need it I suspect.
I think every citizen must do the same. Let the vaccines run out and force the government to go buy more, instead of allowing the stocks to expire while we listen to fireside tales about the leprosy of Geaz or the injection of water shots into arms.
People of Zimbabwe, go get the vaccine, it is the right thing to do. I did.