Chaos Ahead of Zimbabwe’s Lockdown

As thousands of Zimbabweans made last-minute attempts to cross into neighboring South Africa, there was confusion at Beitbridge Border Post yesterday.

Thousands of travelers flocked to their rural homes in towns and cities ahead of a level 4 COVID-19-induced 30-day lockdown that begins today.

Those working in cities and towns but still enjoying their holidays in rural homes rushed back to the urban centers before Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s lockdown on the weekend became successful.

To control the spiralling cases of COVID-19 that are threatening to overwhelm the health system, Zimbabwe is entering the hard lockdown starting today. Intercity movement is forbidden under the lockdown, while only suppliers of critical goods in cities and towns will be permitted to pass.

After a month, the lockdown, which included the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, may stop. Yesterday, roads leading to the Beitbridge Border Post were congested with only those with the requisite paperwork being cleared by authorities while illegal travelers were turned away.

In the past two decades, more than three million Zimbabweans are said to have found political and economic asylum in South Africa, with most of them said to have crossed illegally.

According to the News day, the number of people crossing into SA using illegal docks has risen over the past few days, prompting the neighboring country to deploy military helicopters to curb illegal migration.

Along the border, the South African Police Service has also been deployed to stop thousands of Zimbabweans from entering the country without proper paperwork and those with fake COVID-19 clearance certificates.

In order to enforce the clampdown on illegal immigrants, South African Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and officials from his ministry were literally camped at the frontier post.

Motsoaledi has accused members of both the National Army of Zimbabwe and the Police of the Republic of Zimbabwe of having illegal travelers to South Africa corruptly.

There was congestion in CBDs in Harare and other cities with residents making last-minute grocery stock-ups while Mbare Musika bus terminal was a hive of activity as people pursued transportation to their rural homes.

Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana attributed the chaos to last-minute “preparations for the full level four lockdown”.

“All roads leading in and out Harare CBD are highly congested. Is it last-minute shopping or business in town preparing for full level 4 lockdown from tomorrow?” he asked rhetorically.

Health experts warned that the mass urban-rural migration could further spread the highly contagious disease.

The confusion was attributed by Permanent Information Secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana to last-minute “preparations for the full level four lockdown.”

All the roads to and from Harare CBD are heavily congested. Is it last-minute shopping or company in town planning for tomorrow’s full Level 4 lockdown? “He rhetorically asked.

Health experts have cautioned that the highly infectious disease could be transmitted further by mass urban-rural migration.

Executive Director Itai Rusike of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) said that the temporary relocation of people from affected areas was dangerous for the vulnerable in the villages.

“We have seen an unusual rush of people fleeing to less affected rural areas and carrying the virus with them from urban areas that have a high prevalence of COVID-19,” Rusike said.

“Sadly, this is where more elderly people are living and health services may be even more remote.”

“To save lives, avoid overwhelming rural health systems and not destroy the household and the national economy in the process of doing so, policy and political choices are necessary,” Rusike added.

He said the government should utilize the lockdown to establish effective public health measures and construct decentralized capacity for testing and contact tracing to be extended.

In that regard, observers said the government had been found lacking and the situation was likely to overwhelm the already collapsed health system of the country.

Under the new measures, the operation of only critical service providers will be authorized. Since March last year, Zimbabwe, like most southern African countries, has been under a range of lockdown stages, and the sanctions have adversely affected the economy and have led to job losses.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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