COVID-19 : The unpronounced jail sentence for the Zimbabwean youth

By Netsai Marova
Being part of Zimbabwe’s more than 90% unemployed youths, a country where we have no sustainable saving mechanisms or governmental formulae to balance between our welfare as citizens and control of the dreaded COVID-19, I am faced with double tragedy just like other unemployed youths. It’s either we face coronavirus or face hunger.
We are not invincible, some are HIV positive, most are malnourished and COVID-19 has an equal chance of killing us just like it can kill our grandparents who were not part of the AIDS generation.
COVID-19 came while we were still battling another RNA virus, HIV, a syndrome that created a lot of child headed families. These orphans would have benefited from pensions but their parents’ savings allegedly disappeared while in the hands of leaders like Prisca Mupfumira,former labour and social welfare minister under whose ambit the National Social Security Authority NSSA, whom they had trusted with proceeds of their life’s work.
Unfortunately,  some of these children have been locked down with no food, medicines, other essential services and the famed 600 million package to help the vulnerable has not reached them, maybe the monetary package has already disappeared in the hands of another government official, more so social welfare workers have come to asses their dire situations.
The children and us the youths are starving, while the money supposed to help us is probably being embezzled or being reserved for vote buying.
Coronavirus has no mercy,  it is killing at will in countries like USA,Spain and Italy.  Zimbabwean youths who fled economic chaos are part of the cases which are increasing everyday in neighbouring South Africa, at the home front going out to hustle is like another death sentence to the young who are most likely to face police and military brutality before they even face the real enemy, COVID-19.
Coronavirus under the current ZANU PF led government leaves the youth with two choices, either to die of COVID-19 or to die of hunger. Whilst other countries have functional social welfare systems providing safety nets for the ailing and vulnerable citizens, in Zimbabwe it’s a channel for the greedy ruling elite to get richer. Whilst indeed social distancing is a viable instrument in isolating the coronavirus host, hunger is equally an unbearable punishment, sadly in high density suburbs lockdown brings youths together.
A few days ago I witnessed a horrifying incident, of nine ghetto youths sharing one container of Super Chibuku beer, a risky endeavor since COVID-19 easily spreads through saliva droplets. However, with no savings and nowhere to get money during lockdown, that was their only way to escape from reality.
Government pronounced that one million households selected out of more than five million vulnerable households will receive a cash gift in the name of welfare. Every household, except  for the few elite households is vulnerable and deserves help. Sadly, the majority of us young people know that we will never receive such a precious gift from the government, worse off with inflation not sparing us the poor. Prizes of basic goods continue to skyrocket in the midst  of artificial scarcity, and zero economic production. Our little businesses, like tuckshops, operated by our entrepreneurial youths usually survive on cash moving from one hand to the other, with the little daily profits feeding many families, are collapsing due to the 21 day suffocation.
When the 21 day lockdown is over, very few will be able to reopen, and hence the vicious cycle of poverty will continue. For those of us who live from hand to mouth, who are the majority, the lockdown is more like a 21-day imprisonment. Our friends in prison actually expect meals from us but the main reason we can’t visit is not even the lockdown, we actually can’t even afford to feed ourselves.
With the banking services temporarily on suspension, families and friends who fled the difficult economic situation cannot be rescued, it is impossible  to deposit money into FCAs of students staying abroad who are under lockdown in various countries, some of whom went on government scholarships but the government keeps delaying disbursing their scholarships. Up until recently the regime’s lethal military had been refusing people access to collect the precious resources.
WorldRemit on the other hand still indicates on their website that cash pickup services are not available in Zimbabwe because of restricted movement, with Zimbabwe being one of the very few countries which imposed a financial lockdown.
Now when we are hungry our diaspora relatives who wish to help us have to send foreign currency via mobile money, then we convert using the official exchange rate, before being charged the 2% electronic transaction tax. The extinction of the means of production has spelt unbearable pain to the young, and they have nowhere to turn for help.
COVID-19, will go down in history, for those who will survive it or hunger, as the most unbearable yet unpronounced prison sentence on Zimbabwean youths. Thinking men and women need to reflect deeply on correctional measures.
I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that, just like prisons are supposed to be correctional facilities,  this sentence should make young people give a serious introspection and come up with solutions.
Netsai Marova is a youth activist and political commentator writing in her personal capacity.