‘No Choice’: Hunger Force Zimbabwe breaks COVID lockdown rules

    With stringent coronavirus virus tightening control over livelihoods, vulnerable informal workers seek to survive risk and disease and nurture their families.

    Harare, Zimbabwe – John Kanwarbabu, 36, knew he would be forced to stay home when Zimbabwean officials announced a 30-day coronavirus lockdown early last month.

    His job, in the run-up to mobile phone devices in the central business district of the capital Harare, was not subject to the necessary service providers, the only population segment banned from the ban movement.

    With the agreements coming into force on 5 January, Kawarababu decided to stay in his rural home in Hedwaja, about 130 km (81 mi) from Harare, to plant food crops for two weeks. However, his stay was reduced when his wife called him after a week, and told him that the meal had already run out for him and his three children.

    “I had no choice. I can’t let my family starve,” said Kavaru sitting on a concrete slab in front of a building in the capital.

    After his return, he is under arrest and fined as he rides a bus from Tarera – a vast suburb north of Harare – to the city center without a permit and tries to earn a living. On good days, he manages to sell a few items – USB cable, charger and power bank – before the stock is put on lockdown and buys food for his family.

    But this supply would not last more than three days, he says, leaving him without a choice, to find his way into the city.

    John Kanwarbabu, 36, said he would have to break the lockdown measure for his family [Chris Muronzi/Al Jazeera]

    Even before the spread of COVID-19, millions of Zimbabweans were facing food shortages due to the combined effects of the devastating drought and the deepening economic crisis. Now, the situation is complicated by coronaviruses.

    “The COVID-19 epidemic is making it particularly difficult for poor families to take nutritious diets, with emphasis on income shortages, remittances and poor livelihoods,” said the World Food Program spokesman Klevel.

    Although plans are underway for a national analysis of urban food insecurity, Neville said the Food Agency of the United Nations estimates that about half of all urban residents – about 2.2 million people – go to bed hungry, including about 3.4 million People, including more than a third of the rural population, are expected to face “crisis” or “emergency” hunger levels in the first quarter – up from 2.6 million people a year earlier.

    On Monday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the national lockdown for an additional two weeks. Travel restrictions between the provinces remained in force, while curfew was shortened from 12 hours to nine hours. Meanwhile, staffing levels in government offices were raised from 10 percent to 25 percent capacity, while private companies were allowed to open under strict adherence to World Health Organization guidelines and testing.

    In recent weeks, Zimbabwe has seen a boom in confirmed COVID-19 infections. According to Johns Hopkins University, with nearly 1,400 deaths, more than 35,000 cases of respiratory disease have nearly doubled from last year’s total. The official coronavirus virus death for the entire 2020 was 409.

    28-year-old Tapia Kayes says that measures to stop the spread of coronovirus have made it difficult for people to earn a living. [Chris Muronzi/Al Jazeera]

    The health emergency has found Zimbabwe in the midst of a severe economic crisis characterized by hyperinflation foreign exchange shortages and a rapidly weakening domestic currency.

    With more than 90 percent of the cash-strapped country’s population unemployed and holding informal jobs, coronovirus restrictions have caused more misery and suffering.

    “The lockdown is very hard on me and my family,” said the 28-year-old salesman and father of two in Harare. “I had to decide whether I wanted to earn money or stay home.”

    Although he fears that despite being infected by COVID-19 that wreaks havoc on the country, Kayes says he had to break the lockdown rules to earn a living.

    For the first two weeks of the lockdown imposed in January, they ate only oatmeal, pumpkin leaves and saja, a thick corn paste, twice a day. In the third week, he ran out of cornmeal – and, like Curvaboo, led a survivor living in the city center to try to get him out.

    More than 400,000 people have been arrested for violating lockdown rules since the latest lockdown came into force last month.

    “Officers should relax the lockdown rules,” Kayce said. “We will maintain social distance and wear face masks.”

    As the clock closed the daytime business at 3 pm, Kayce started driving home to Epworth, a poor settlement on the periphery of Harare, 14 km (9 mi) away. Proceeding from her colleague’s financial struggles, salesman Revai Ngere offered to pay him a transport fare – but Kayes declined the offer.

    “I won’t be able to pay him back,” he told her.

    Like Cayce, Ngere said that economic hardship and hunger forced him to break lockdown rules and try to sell socks and underwear in Harare.

    “We had dinner out of the house,” the 40-year-old said. “I have five children who depend on me for food.”


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