The following is a conversation between Vice President Kembo Mohadi (VPKM), who is the chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, and his personal assistant, Dr Clever Chirume (CC). The interview covers a range of issues and personal opinion about the pandemic.
CC: Honourable Vice President, kindly walk us through your initial impressions about your assignment as the chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19.
VPKM: Thanks very much Dr Chirume for creating the platform for this exchange. I must say that upon assuming the chairmanship of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, I couldn't help, but associate myself with the riveting dynamics captured in Michael Foucault's book, "Discipline and Punish". The French historian and philosopher studied plagues and concluded that the fight against infection is more than just a medical measure.
The view that plagues are a primal scene of a disciplinarian society akin to a proverbial funeral where closure and consolation on the bereaved are impossible is now a reality as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We have been thrust into isolation as a result of this Covid-19, the sad stories of our clinicians who are part of the British National Health System (NHS) perishing to Covid-19 in foreign land without anyone to talk to, is typical of our painful new reality. We last experienced such horrible encounters during Zimbabwe's brutal war of liberation.
As a committee, we realised quickly that if we were to avoid exposing our hard working frontliners (the doctors and nurses) to the ethical dilemma of facing the criteria to determine who lives and who dies, such as in Italy and the United States, we had to strengthen the measures put in place by His Excellency, the President Cde ED Mnangagwa to slow down the spread of the virus.
At the onset of our assignment, I realised that the pandemic demanded of my committee to visualise emerging threats beyond the challenges posed by the coronavirus itself.
Whilst at the beginning of my work the focus was to strategise on Covid-19, it became apparent that a broader and more inclusive approach would soon be required. This is even reflected in the structure of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, with areas of focus as set by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in collaboration with World Health Organisation (WHO).
These areas are reflective of their respective functions and mandates as follows:
- Planning, monitoring and coordination;
- Risk communication and community engagement;
- Surveillance, rapid response and case investigation;
- Points of entry;
- National laboratory system;
- Infection prevention and control;
- Case management; and,
- Logistics, procurement and supply management.
Coming back to the issue of emerging threats, the biting hunger owing to the shutdown soon became a topical issue during the committee deliberations, given that our economy is largely informal and our people live from hand to mouth.
Whilst the shutdown itself is a necessary evil which we undertook to preserve the lives of our people through slowing down the spread of the virus, the resultant ethical dilemma entailed strategising on the provision of food for our people.
The economy had come to a standstill. As you are aware, our economy had already been significantly in disarray, heavily constrained by sanctions, frequent droughts and recently, the ravages of Cyclone Idai. These are the mounting humanitarian dynamics and ethical challenges faced by the committee.
Contemplating on the limited choices to the committee, I could not help, but think of a statement recently made by the President during an interview with an international media outlet, and I quote, "Leadership is about taking people where they ought to be and not where they want to be".
In this context, as chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, I am simply a door to a ship.
Allow me to make this clarion call to all Zimbabweans, all corporate players and other collaborating partners to come together in unity of purpose so that we can collectively fight the scourge of coronavirus as one family.
I have said this before that this is our battle together, and together we shall prevail in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
A further vivid impression that struck my mind was that of fear -- the fear of illness and death weighing heavily on the minds of our people -- more so against the climbing death toll in Italy and the US, especially as one comes to imagine that these are countries with established health care systems.
Another ethical challenge facing the committee is the reality of the fear factor. I can quote from Lucretius, a philosopher, that people who have been disoriented by a pandemic end up preoccupied with something that literally does not matter at all. Quite notably, Lucretius observes, "Fear and anxiety stain everything in life, leaving no pleasure clear and pure".
From a psycho-emotional health perspective, fear could lead to a great hatred of life, lowering one's immune system and making it more vulnerable to infections. We just have to be strong and have faith that we will conquer this scourge.
As time went by, a new source of headache for my committee soon became that of returnees, bearing in mind that most of them were coming from the hot spots in terms of the disease. We were suddenly inundated with the issues of finding accommodation for the returnees and providing for their food in the isolation centres. All this happened at a time when the Government was thinking of expanding its social welfare programme in the urban areas.
For the first time, the drought situation in the country had forced us to introduce food relief in urban areas. Obviously, with Covid-19, our facilities and provisions are overwhelmed.
CC: Honourable Vice President, would you mind sharing some reflections on Zimbabwe's response preparedness strategy?
VPKM: Oh yes, coming back to Zimbabwe's response preparedness strategy to Covid-19, I must applaud the President for the decisive and bold decisions to firstly launch a US$26 million Covid-19 plan on March 19, 2020. For those with memory, you will recall the President speaking with foresight prophesying that coronavirus was almost certain to reach Zimbabwe . . . and that it was no longer a matter of "if" but "when" the country would have these cases and most people took it lightly until the unfortunate death of Zororo Makamba.
The declaration of a 21-day lockdown of the country from March 30 as a measure of stopping the spread of the coronavirus is another bold and decisive decision by His Excellency. Its extension by an additional 14 days, although painful, is in my view worthy of the pain.
CC : Honourable, would you mind sharing the implications of the measures you highlighted above?
VPKM: For me and my team, the measures taken by His Excellency provided a soft landing for the discharge of my functions as chairman for the Ad Hoc Taskforce Committee on Covid-19. I must applaud the sterling job by my predecessor, the Minister of Health and Child Care, who steered the events during the initial phases of our preparation to combat Covid-19.
CC: Honourable, are there any positives drawn from the Covid -19 crisis?
VPKM: Positives in a crisis, oh yes. Maybe let me start from the English saying; "Never waste a good crisis". One feels Covid-19 is God's way of remodelling the world, our politics, our economics and our thought processes into being more positive -- positive about ourselves.
Is it not you who wrote something about "we Zimbabweans loving to hate ourselves with a passion". I thought I read something like that in one of your papers. Anywhere, my view is that from hating ourselves with abundant recklessness, Covid-19 provides us with a turning point.
It provides us with the opportunity to retrace the stoic resilience of our people in the past. I am sure we will conquer the current crisis just as we have done in the past. The 16 years of the brutal war towards independence taught us that no matter how hard and difficult a situation might be, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, some of our comrades perished during the liberation struggle without an end in sight. I lost a brother at Mkushi in Zambia, Tongogara, Chitepo, Ziyapapa Moyo and many more comrades lost their lives, but Zimbabwe eventually became independent.
Indeed, as observed by His Excellency, Covid-19 provides a turning point for Zimbabwe. We are beginning to witness a brand of leadership that takes pride in the critical synergies demonstrated by the public-private partnership.
There is a whole new phenomenon of positive thinking among our people. Our universities have ceased to be ivory towers detached from the communities they serve. They have suddenly re-awakened to their mandate of being centres of excellence where the knowledge is deployed to manufacture utensils and gadgets required to combat Covid-19 at reasonable prices.
It is a whole interesting scenario where you choose to stand aloof whilst the Murwiras shoot past and you see dust. One would wish to see positive thinking even from our opposition. Although we have suspended the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) meetings, we can still engage through digital means.
I also hope our farmers will rise to the occasion, this being a passionate appeal from my colleague, VaChiwenga. With more returnees, our limited food provisions will further be overwhelmed to a breaking point. Ironically, returnees complained about the amenities in the facilities we availed them. This is the same situation with our stadia and thankfully, the private sector joined hands with Government in fixing them.
I challenge our diasporans to partner VaGarwe to fix our social amenities, knowing too well that we only have one Zimbabwe, our country. This is the kind of positive thinking we require if we are to move forward. The crisis provides us an opportunity to perceptively focus on what is needed for us to work again.
Never before had we known of the abundant talent in our midst, and the possibilities for synergies between the private and public sectors. The six months' financial cover for research by Sakunda beckons all, including the Scientific Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC), to put hands on the deck.
Here is, in my view, a golden opportunity for our scientists scattered across the globe to come and serve their country, and I wish someone else could stretch the six months cover into a year, a couple of years, perhaps even make it a permanent research facility. We have the necessary skills, resources, knowledge and the banks have billions of dollars they can lend to corporates and individuals to boost production.
CC: Honourable Vice President, kindly explain His Excellency as the face of donations for Covid-19?
VPKM: Oh, we learnt too well from the inefficiencies of the systems during Cyclone Idai. Some donations ended being diverted from the intended victims of the cyclone. Therefore, centralising donations is simply trying to minimise the chances for pilferage of donations. It is a way of deepening relations with both local and international cooperating partners within the broader context of the re-engagement thrust.
CC: Any regrets concerning your work so far?
VPKM: I wouldn't call them regrets, but concerns. I am simply performing my duty as directed by the President. I said concerns, yes, because I feel we have not reached what they describe in psychology as the "Ahaa" moment -- a moment of great satisfaction with one's work. I say so because it appears as if it has not yet dawned on the mind of some of our people that we need to behave differently if we are to survive. It still appears some of our people are taking too long to understand the kind of monster this coronavirus is.
I don't know who to blame. It looks like everyone has done the best they can, to inform and educate our people about the virus. I have seen numerous adverts on television and listened to some on radio warning us of the dangers of crowding and some even going further to teach us hygiene -- something I thought was now anchored on a solid foundation of the monthly clean-up campaigns introduced by the President in 2018.
Our media is doing a sterling job in projecting the issues about the pandemic. However, I still feel there is need for the amplification of voices of our clinicians and other specialists concerning the pandemic. We need thought engaging stories such as "the pain of losing a loved one in foreign land". Let us continue drilling the message home. We do not need the litigant environment created by some of our people who wish to take Government to court for proclaiming the shutdown. I will leave this area for Amai Mutsvangwa and her team to consider.
CC: Any last words you would want for your readers?
VPKM: Yes, allow me the opportunity first to thank His Excellency for entrusting me with this responsibility. I wish to express my gratitude to my deputy Mai Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri and those steering the various committees for a job well done.
Let us keep working. Let me thank all our cooperating partners, the British and the Chinese, despite facing the same burden in their countries. As a nation, there is no better way to approach the task at hand than realising how collective success stands supremely above individual sensibilities.
May our people feel they require assistance concerning the pandemic, they can call the Covid-19 tollfree hotline number: 2019.
Dr Clever Chirume is the Personal Assistant for Honourable Vice President KCD Mohadi. He is a media scholar, author and correspondent for The Herald.