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Africa: COVID-19 targets politicians in droves

Number of political elites dying of coronavirus growing with every passing day across Southern African region

Jeffrey Moyo   | 27.01.2021
Africa: COVID-19 targets politicians in droves

HARARE, Zimbabwe

It never rains, but pours for Zimbabwe’s governing politicians who are falling prey to COVID-19 one after another. Leaders across parts of Southern Africa are struggling against the pandemic as the deadly virus keeps claiming the lives of political elites.

In July last year, Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister, died of COVID-19.

On Jan. 15, Ellen Gwaradzimba, Zimbabwe’s minister for provincial affairs for Manicaland Province, succumbed to coronavirus and was followed in the same week by Morton Malianga, the country’s deputy finance minister in the 1980s.

As if that was not enough, on Jan. 20, Sibusiso Busi Moyo, Zimbabwe’s minister for foreign affairs and international trade, also succumbed to coronavirus in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

Two days after the death of Moyo, 81-year-old top regional historian and former Zimbabwean education minister, Aeneas Chigwedere, also succumbed to COVID-19 at his farm house in Mashonaland East Province. On the same day just before Chigwedere kicked the bucket, Joel Biggie Matiza, Zimbabwe’s transport minister, was also killed by COVID-19 in Harare.

Politicians violate COVID-19 rules

Despite the fact coronavirus has not spared the country's political leaders, Zimbabwe's Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa was seen publicly celebrating her 60th birthday with other senior government ministers and officials at the end of last year, also in the middle of a government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, a development that irked anti-government activists.

“The same government leaders enact rules to fight coronavirus, but the same leaders preside over the infringement of the same rules, holding parties during lockdown. The government leaders thought they were immune to the respiratory disease,” Claris Madhuku, a government critic and leader of the Platform for Youth Development, a civil society group, told Anadolu Agency.

So, Zimbabwe, currently grappling with over 31,000 coronavirus cases, has had over 1,000 deaths due to the respiratory disease and these include four government ministers.

Zimbabwe politicians tailing SA’s in dying

Across the entire Southern Africa region, Zimbabwe apparently comes after South Africa in terms of the number of government officials who have so far died of coronavirus.

Government's key leader in the country’s response to COVID-19, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu also succumbed to COVID-19 on Jan. 21 this year.

In fact, by the end of December last year, 11 political figures died of COVID-19 in South Africa, with the first prominent political personality to die there being Gordon Kegakilwe, the North West Province’s Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs Member of Executive Council (MEC).

In Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, the country’s prime minister, Ambrose Dlamini, also succumbed to coronavirus last year in December, making him the first head of government to die of COVID-19.

On Jan. 23, Makhosi Vilakati, a legislator in the parliament of Eswathini, succumbed to coronavirus, said Themba Masuku, the country’s acting prime minister.

A week before Vilakati died, another Eswathini minister who headed the country’s public service, Christian Ntshangase, was also killed by coronavirus.

With a current record of over 200 coronavirus deaths, on Jan. 12 Malawi, whose president recently overruled a court judgement that halted lockdown in the impoverished African nation, lost two senior cabinet ministers and two other senior political figures to COVID-19.

Politicizing COVID-19

Even as hundreds of Zimbabweans have lost their lives to COVID-19, government ministers like Oppah Muchinguri courted controversy after claiming coronavirus was brought by God to punish the then US President Donald Trump and other Western countries that slapped Zimbabwe with economic sanctions.

“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,” Muchinguri said this last year at a political rally in Chinhoyi, a town 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) west of Harare.

But hit to the core by the deaths of his ministers, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a recent televised address to the nation said: “The pandemic has been indiscriminate...there are no spectators, adjudicators, no holier than thou, no supermen or superwomen, we are all exposed.”

Yet Elvis Mugari, a known opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance activist, said: “The national address by Mnangagwa was a clear testimony that he has no plan to surmount coronavirus.”

Obey Sithole, the opposition MDC Alliance Youth Assembly National Chairperson, said: “This pandemic needs not only press statements and promises, but needs leadership and action.”

As coronavirus spreads death amongst Zimbabwe’s politicians, the country’s two vice presidents have not been seen in public of late amid growing speculation they are critically ill from COVID-19.

Medical assassins

Amid all this chaos, government spokesman Nick Mangwana recently triggered a storm, claiming “medical assassins” are out to kill government officials falling sick due to coronavirus.

“There are certain political players being eliminated in hospitals by political activists hiding behind medical qualifications. In fact, not just political players, but medical assassins,” Mangwana tweeted on Jan. 24.

But in less than 24 hours, under pressure from social media activists who rebuked him, Mangwana apologized before withdrawing his allegations.

Politicians testing their own medicine

Rashweat Mukundu, a media researcher and Africa adviser at International Media Support, said as they fall prey to coronavirus, Zimbabwe’s political leaders are having a test of their own medicine.

“For the first time, our politicians and senior government leaders are confronting the reality of the decay in our health system; over the past few years they would fly to South Africa, to China, to Malaysia for treatment, but right now they have to face the years of neglect of which they are the chief parties,” Mukundu told Anadolu Agency.

As COVID-19 pummels the country’s governing politicians, Mukundu also said: “It’s a wake-up call to our leaders to invest in health infrastructure as they see that they actually need it as much as the ordinary citizens do.”

But Taurai Kandishaya, a known activist for the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), said: “COVID-19 is killing engineers, doctors, witchdoctors, musicians, actors, chiefs, drivers as it’s also killing politicians from across the board.”

Pointing to the deaths of government leaders in Zimbabwe, Owen Dhliwayo, a Zimbabwean pro-democracy activist, said: “The authorities set up regulations which they were not ready to comply with themselves.”

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