As coronavirus spreads across Africa with six new countries confirming cases over the weekend, Zimbabwe found itself trending in global news reports following bizarre comments by the minister of defence and war veterans, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, suggesting coronavirus was unleashed by God to deal with US President Donald Trump and other Western countries for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Speaking on Saturday at a Zanu-PF meeting, as the party’s chairperson, Muchinguri-Kashiri said: “Coronavirus is the work of God punishing countries that imposed sanctions on us. They are now keeping indoors. Their economies are screaming just like they did to ours. Trump should know that he is not God.”
The minister’s comments come at a time when Zimbabwe has not officially registered a coronavirus case, although public scepticism abounds over the government’s official claims on the outbreak. Last week, the government put out conflicting information about a woman who was said to have died on the way from the eastern border town of Mutare to Harare for testing, whose body the government claims was subsequently tested and found to be free of the virus.
However, the Senior Hospitals Doctors Association has expressed serious concern that the country is ill prepared and incapacitated to detect the virus.
Last week the US extended targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe, and ministry of information and broadcasting services permanent secretary Nick Mangwana said: “We find this a baffling position.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, under his Twitter handle @Jamwanda2, also posted bizarre comments insinuating that coronavirus was a disease for affluent western societies.
Charamba received brickbats from disappointed Zimbabweans who found his comments to be dangerously ignorant for a senior civil servant in charge of presidential communications, especially at a time he should be leading responsible public information efforts to mitigate the pandemic.
Opposition politicians, activists and ordinary Zimbabweans also took to social media to attack the Muchinguri for her “stigmatisation” of the epidemic and “bankruptcy of ideas”.
Former adviser to the late prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Dr Alex Magaisa, through his Twitter handle @Wamagaisa, said the minister was “ignorant and callous”.
Exiled former Zanu-PF spin doctor Prof Jonathan Moyo said because of the way government was treating the coronavirus epidemic, Zimbabweans were alone in the fight, lacking political leadership.
“The first duty of government in a constitutional democracy is the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. Nothing has demonstrated this principle than how governments are protecting their citizens from the coronavirus pandemic. Zimbabweans are on their own with no protection,” he said.
Some Zimbabweans feel Zimbabwe has no communication plan for crisis management of the coronavirus.
Africa is seeing a steady spread of the coronavirus across the continent, with six new countries confirming cases on Saturday.
It means 25 of the continent’s 54 countries have COVID-19 patients, with the Republic of Congo being the latest country reporting a case, late Saturday.
Eswatini, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania, Namibia and Rwanda also confirmed their first cases Saturday.
All were brought to the continent by travelers from overseas, as with almost all the other cases reported in Africa, according to health authorities.
– Additional reporting by Timeslive.