By Khanyile Mlotshwa
Considering the dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases especially in Bulawayo this week, the relaxed approach to social distancing and the government plans to upscale testing, there was absolutely no reason why the 21-day lockdown should not be extended.
However, as things stand, let us agree that when lockdown finally ends; then the question should be on how we move forward after these dark days.
Few things are certain in life. However, one thing for sure is that the world as we have always known it is gone, completely altered by Covid 19.
How we proceed from this ‘biopolitical crisis’ means that it will not be business as usual for the entire world, including Zimbabwe.
To start with, what Covid-19 has taught us is to always simalteneously think in global and local terms.
First, our imagination of the future out of the lockdown imposed on us by Covid 19 must consider both global and local dynamics.
How we choose to live after the lockdown must be in such a way that we protect ourselves from the enemy who still lurks out there.
We have to continue avoiding crowded spaces, observe good hygiene by washing our hands and bodies, consuming food that does not undermine our immune system and practise spatial distancing.
This is because reinfections in Zimbabwe simalteneously mean that the whole world is exposed once more and our lives and livelihoods, locally, are at stake.
Second, as ascertained in the opening sentence and emphasised in the first point, we have to accept that we will never have a future free of Covid 19. We, therefore, have to be honest to ourselves that imagining a future after lockdown is not imagining a future free of this virus or its implications.
It is simalteneously thinking about self-preservation in a future haunted by the pandemic, and how we practise our agency to build a Zimbabwe and world we collectively desire.
In terms of its ‘bio’ aspects, the effects or presence of Covid 19 in our bodies may lessen, however, its political, economic and social ramifications will haunt us into the next generations.
This reality makes it significant for us to use some of the lessons of the lockdown to imagine a future beyond it.
For the honest among us, the lockdown days have allowed us to recognise both our vulnerability and resilience (strength). This should have given us the bravery and the will to live in the coming world altered by Covid-19.
Our vulnerability to the virus had taught us that we can only be stronger together. This is to say that even though each infected body that has recovered, or is recovering, fought on its own, the true solution to this virus has always rested and continues to lie in what we do as a collective.
Reducing the spread of the virus will continue to rely on what we all do in observing spatial and physical distancing even beyond the lockdown.
What appears to be the desired solution to Covid 19, which is finding a vaccine, will clearly have to be a matter of international cooperation among scientists and goverents around the world.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said only a “safe and effective vaccine” can return the world to normal.
He hopes the vaccine could be available by year end.
If Gutierrez is partly correct, which from all indications he is, attaining the ‘normal world’ even with a vaccine is still an epic struggle.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO, Mark Suzman, has said “there are seven billion people on the planet [and] we are going to need to vaccinate nearly everyone. There is no manufacturing capacity to do that.”
Clearly the vaccine will have to be a human right and a common good if it is to assist in ‘willing’ into reality a normal world.
This requires a change of thinking and understanding of how the world should work if life, all life, is important and must be preserved.Zimbabwe will have to work as a community to ensure its entire population has access to the vaccine.
If we are honest, thinking in terms of the community or the communal, ahead of individualism, can never be an exaggeration in that it has implications for our health and the politics of living. In the post-lockdown nation (and world), replacing the communal with the individual is therefore as important as simalteneously thinking in global and local terms.
When we make our way out of Covid 19 it should be to a new brave Zimbabwe, where we live above individualism and are stronger together.
This means we have to recognise ourselves as new ethical beings. As much as we have learned under lockdown that I put on a mask, gloves or wash and sanitise my hands for my sake and the sake of the people around me, we must continue in this selflessness we have exhibited in valuing our humanity.
We must continue into the future with this high awareness that we share the streets and other public spaces with others and our lives and destinies are tied together. This is an awareness that if I neglect my health, I neglect the community’s health, or vice versa.
As Africans, before the glitter of wealth blinded us, we have always valued that ‘I am because we are’, that there is no individual outside the family and community.
In Zimbabwe, the point I am trying to make here speaks to the greed of the post 2000 years we have seen in our country. This is the greed that has led to hoarding of all kinds, from the rapacious consumption of the country’s natural resources including diamonds by the national and nationalist elites, through the monopolisation of the ‘epistemic space’ by the middle class including CSOs of all kinds, universities and various and varying church leadership characterised by careerism and aspirations to be tomorrow’s elites, to the petty grocery hoarding in supermarkets by the poor for retail in a black market that is punitive to other poor people.
I know I put this simply as there have been collusions across classes in the enactment of this greed.
For those blinded by the world of inequalities that Covid 19 threatened and still threatens to take advantage of to overrun us, this looks like a negible point.
I therefore bear the burden of illustrating it.
After lockdown, let us say schools open, which we all hope for, albeit for different reasons.
One thing for sure, these schools will open under the controlled conditions of minimum contact and maximum social distancing. Then the greed such as flows from the ethics of individualism would show us, starkly, the gap between the poor and rich.
The elites and the middle class who have always taken their children to better schools and overseas universities will have an added advantage of technology to ensure that their children access better quality education.
The poor in townships, peri-urban and the majority of rural spaces will continue to do with bad education.
However, if the nation is to think as a community and put resources in impoverished spaces to improve infrastructure in education and health, while supporting communities to embrace ‘commoning’ to improve their lives, the gap will narrow. Covid 19 can be defeated under such circumstances.
No doubt, beyond the lockdown, people will need to continue to be vigilant on their hygeine and health. However, the majority of the citizens cannot afford that unless health care is made more accessible and they have clean water. If the poor are neglected beyond the lockdown, Covid 19 that still lurks around, or its mutated version, would come again and kill all of us including those who hoard the country’s riches. For Covid 19, only heaven seems out of reach. Whether king, prime minister or president, the virus has amply demonstrated that it has ways of getting there, up there!
The broader meaning is that in Zimbabwe, just as anywhere else in the world, as much as the post-lockdown world is an ethical challenge bordering on how as individuals we behave and occupy the world, a huge burden falls on the shoulders of those elected or appointed (including self-appointed) to lead to actually lead.
To return where we started, the government has released a memo on an ambitious extended testing exercise, which is commendable.
However, it will be futile and a waste of resources if conducted outside a genuine lockdown that keeps people immobile as much as possible.
Testing does not remove or neutralise the virus in the body and therefore should not be engaged in for the sake of it which will be the case if done under conditions where people can possibly still spread the virus.
So an ambitious testing excercise, for it to be effective, must be in the context of a proper lockdown.
Under Zimbabwe’s food shortages, a proper lockdown partly means the government takes steps to secure a few available jobs, insists and assists companies to pay salaries in months when no work has been done, freezes rent and other bills, and largely makes food available to people in places where they live. Hunger should never push people out of their homes.
This would allow the authorities to map the infections, take measures to assist patients recover, and minimise further infections. Then the country can open itself to business again, although clearly things will not be the same again.