State and Repression; Zimbabwe economic crisis and healthcare meltdown.

 In Coronavirus, Economics, Health, Labor and Unions, Zimbabwe

Since coming into power in a 2017 military coup and a disputed 2018 election, Mnangagwa has sustained the authoritarian state and violent repression overseen for thirty seven years by his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. Even before covid-19 Zimbabwe recorded cases of human rights abuse-repression of labour activists, civic and opposition leaders.

During public protests and strikes in January 2019 against fuel price hikes, police and soldiers shot and killed protesters and then marauded through residential areas assaulting hundreds, raping or sexually harassing women and arresting more than 1000 people. The government also shut down the internet and social media for more than a week.

Throughout 2019, Zimbabwe suffered a spike in abductions, beatings and systematic torture of government critics by organized and unidentified squads of gunmen.

From March 2020, Mnangagwa has ordered shutdowns of business and other activities to suppress the spread of COVID-19. ED Mnangagwa and his ruling ZANU PF, are using the health crisis to undermine democratic freedoms and target government opponents such as labour leaders, civic organisation leaders and opposition leaders. In May, three women leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-one a member of parliament disappeared before being found injured from beatings. They have been abducted, beaten and sexually assaulted by armed men after having joined a protest against hunger that has spread under the covid-19 lockdown.

Civic society groups also are asking why the regime is trying to fast-track amendment bill number two. They want to return the executive president that will see Mnangagwa having powers and weaken democratic checks and balances. The government has been pressing ahead with the amendments, as we saw the holding of public hearings despite covid-19 threat and the shutdown of other public activities-an inconsistency which was protested by labour unions and civic groups.

In an unexpected speech to the nation on August 4, Mnangagwa declared that his government is facing “many hurdles and attacks” and that “the bad apples who have attempted to divide our people and to weaken our systems will be flashed out”.

“We will overcome attempts to destabilize our society by a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors”, the president continued.

The same day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it was representing more than 20 people arrested since the government thwarted protests which was planned for 31 July 2020. Before 31 July Mnangagwa’ s government sent soldiers and police to shut down the capital city Harare, thereby blocking protests planned by Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of the small opposition party Transform Zimbabwe-citing COVID-19 as the reason for the lockdown.

The Zimbabwean government has used the covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to strengthen its grip on power and curtail the freedom of expression of the citizens. Ahead of the suppressed protests, Ngarivhume was arrested for inciting violence on 20 July 2020, along with Hopewell Chin’ono a journalist who in June helped to uncover the “Covidgate” scandal, in which the health minister was sacked over alleged corruption in a 60 million deal to procure supplies for the fight against the coronavirus.

A further financial scandal was uncovered in early July when it was revealed that the Zimbabwean public funds were used to buy luxury cars such as Range Rovers for senior civil servants –costing millions of dollars collectively.

Meltdown in health

Covidgate emerged around recurrent health workers’ strikes over poor working conditions and low salaries. Public hospitals are in such poor state that “unborn babies and mothers are dying daily,” the Zimbabwe Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologist report.

In the time of covid-19, the steady meltdown in health services has now become not just a bad dream but a nightmare, the broader economic outlook is similarly worrying. Inflation is running at around 800 percent. With more than 60 percent of Zimbabweans likely to suffer from food insecurity by the end of the year, – UN’s World Food Program. Mnangagwa a believer of neoliberalism as an economic ideology, introduced a reform package with IMF support in 2019, including a new currency seeking to turn a page after economic crises racked Zimbabwe during the last two decades under Mugabe.

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