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Campaigners for Human Rights

The COVID 19 Wake Up Call
Reform, Bridge Inequalities and Build More Resilient Communities

By Dzikamai Bere
On 16 July 2020, we launched the report, Rights in Crisis: A Human Rights Analysis of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Zimbabwe. The report is a product of ZimRights’ three-pillar COVID-19 Response Strategy activated on 30 March 2020. The three pillars are:

- human rights monitoring - humanitarian response - policy advocacy

A number of measures were taken under this strategy across the country’s 10 provinces and ZimRights 11 provincial chapters.

From these interventions, ZimRights communities and experts have come together to document their experiences and extract key lessons for emerging from the disaster better and building a foundation for more resilient communities and more efficient institutions that are able to offer adequate protection for rights, especially for marginalized communities and weak sectors.

The seven chapters of the report track COVID-19 from its genesis in Wuhan in China to the villages of Zimbabwe where many families are still trying to come to terms with its impact. The report shapes a clear vision for emerging from the virus.

In the first Chapter, the report gives historical background on pandemics in general and tracks the outbreak of the virus from China to the world and to Zimbabwe. It documents how the World Health Organisation (WHO), the world powers and the third world were all caught unaware by the pandemic. Using data from various sources, the report gives the statistical progression of the virus in Zimbabwe between March 2020 and July 2020. It documents the tragic developments in the country from the death of Zororo Makamba until the numbers began to rise in July 2020 at the time the report is published.

In the second Chapter, the report gives an analysis of the crisis in Zimbabwe ahead of the COVID-19. Using insights from key experts like Dr. Madzorera, former Minister of Health, and Dr. Norman Matara, the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), as well as views from ZimRights community leaders, the report looks at Zimbabwe’s health care system from both national perspective as well as community perspective. It looks at the failure of the National Health Strategy 2016 to 2020, unpacks reasons why the strategy failed to deliver. It looks at the Zimbabwe Preparedness and Response Plan COVID 19, a brilliant document by the Ministry of Health which unfortunately failed to take-off for a number of reasons. “The plan is as good as its execution.” Says Dr. Madzorera. Experts interviewed reveal the sluggish approach by politicians whom Dr. Matara says they never believed that COVID-19 would reach Harare. As leaders took a relaxed approach, information never reached rural communities. ZimRights Mashonaland Central Chairperson Kelvin Nzimba reports that there was information blackout until it was very late. In any case, Dr. Matara notes in the report that ‘you cannot build in weeks a system that you spent decades destroying’. The report documents how communities faced multiple challenges outside health care, like shortage of basic commodities. It finds that communities were caught unaware and that corruption and half-baked measures by government exacerbated the situation.

Chapter 3 of the report looks at Zimbabwe’s disaster preparedness and response. It gives an overview of global practice, using case studies from West Africa at the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 and giving a comparative analysis. With insights from West African leaders like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the report emphasizes the importance of collecting information and using evidence to prepare for disasters. The critical elements documented are; planning and preparedness, development of a collective approach to healthcare security and regional response and preparedness. The report concludes that learning from these experiences helps develop better strategies and enables communities to respond better, save lives and mitigate the socio-economic cost of the pandemic.

In Chapter 4, the report looks at human rights and rule of law amid COVID-10 crisis in Zimbabwe. It lays out the legal framework before COVID-19, and moves into a set of principles outlined by the United Nations at the outbreak of the virus. It also looks at the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and enforcement of emergency measures by the police and military. It looks at the deficit of information as a human right, and how this impacted negatively on the fight against COVID 19. The Chapter closes with the best practices in confronting COVID 19 which include the need for restraint on the use of state of emergency, the need to promote transparency and accountability, as well as inclusivity.

Chapter 5 of the report looks at the gendered approach including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in Zimbabwe. It notes the increase in cases of gender-based violence, the rising national compassion burden on women, general susceptibility of women and girls, violence in the home and how some organisations like Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) have tried to assist in combatting gender-based violence during the COVID 19 crisis. The report maps out 9 pathways linking pandemics and violence against women and children according to the Centre for Global Development. It further looks at the burden of health care on women and analyses statistics on gender distribution of health workers across 104 countries. The report finds that there is need for direct support towards women and girls to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on families including recapitalizing women businesses.

Chapter 6 gives an overview on the general impact of COVID-19. It looks at the impact of the virus on the economy but also the effect of the measures by government like the cost of the ‘lockdown without a plan’ a lost opportunity to scale up testing, tracking and isolation. The impact on food insecurity with already 7 million Zimbabweans being food insecure ahead of the virus. In a country where 60% of the economy is informal, the lockdown affected mainly small and informal businesses. The report documents the heavy burden imposed on rural economies due to the urban-rural migration that happened on the eve of the lockdown. This was worsened by the decentralization of tobacco auction floors where the rural economies lost over 65% of projected income for the year owing to non-competitive pricing in the locality. The Chapter looks at the education sector as one of the major casualties of the virus especially on marginalized communities without access to online learning facilities. The report finds that there is need to level the playing field in the education sector to ensure that no one is left behind.

In the conclusion, the report introduces a ‘Pro-future approach’ based on the UN Secretary General’s Policy Brief on Human Rights and COVID 19 in which he stated as follows:

“In what world do we want to live when this is all over? The way in which we respond now can help to shape that future - for better or for worse. We must ensure that we do not do harm while we focus on the immediate crisis. It is critical to consider the long term whilst planning our short-term responses. The crisis is revealing weaknesses in the way public services are delivered and inequalities that impede access to them. Human rights help us to respond to the immediate priorities and develop prevention strategies for the future, including our responsibilities to future generations.”

With this in mind, the report notes that Zimbabwe is in extraordinary times and it is important that its measures be grounded in pro-poor and pro-future approaches that build long-term resilience in communities.

“Instead of focusing only on patchwork and stop-gap measures, the government should engender lasting and sustainable solutions. Rather than it being only a time for repair, it should be a time for reform. It is a time to build the resilience of communities in Zimbabwe for them to be able to outlive the coronavirus outbreak and to strengthen national institutions to withstand any future pandemics.” says the report.

To achieve these, the report closes with recommendations for government. These include putting human rights at the centre, strengthening public health system, investing in evidence and data collection, investing in education technology and bridging the digital divide, promoting access to information and prioritizing disaster preparedness. On recommendations for the private sector, the report encourages businesses to care about community development, to invest in collaborations with communities they work in, and raising awareness on workers’ rights as they relate to COVID 19. On recommendations for non-profits and social movements, the report recommends using the crisis to push for genuine reforms, coordination among CSOs on common issues and embracing new technology and innovation.

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Dzikamai Bere is the Team Leader at ZimRights. Comments to this article can be send to dzikamai@zimrights.org.zw


Dzikamai Bere