Johannesburg – Zimbabwe is under siege after South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered South Africans to stay at home for the next 21 days until 16 April to contain the spread of coronavirus. These developments will have a huge bearing on Zimbabwe’s economy considering how the politically spongy nation depends on South Africa for raw materials and foodstuffs.

“The nationwide lockdown will be enacted in terms of the Disaster Management Act”, said Ramaphosa after acknowledging the negative impact of these measures on people’s livelihoods and on their economy. The private sector has also chipped in to assist government in its fight against COVID-19 in South Africa. Two billionaire families – the Rupert and Oppenhaimer families pledged a combined R2 billion to the cause.

In Zimbabwe, it is a different story as government is under pressure to live to its claims that it is prepared for the epidemic after a high profile death exposed president Mnangagwa’s rank and file. The death of Zororo Makamba in the hands of government on Monday sums up Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 preparedness. For someone whose family had direct contact with the Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo, as well as the first family, getting assurances that authorities were up to the task, only to realise that the country’s paraded COVID-19 treatment centre (Wilkins Hospital) failed to find a plug to connect a ventilator which was personally brought in by the patient’s family is very worrying. The family had to fetch for medication, a ventilator, and an adaptor to connect the ventilator and the list goes on. As reported by ENN, is it not time Zimbabwe accepts unpreparedness to allow private players and donors to chip in with resources to capacitate the country to fight COVID-19?

With the South Africa shutdown, Zimbabwe’s economy will take a knock and food shortages may worsen for a country already in comatose. South Africa is Zimbabwe’s major food corridor which had become more important this year after Zimbabwe experienced a drought. With an economy confronted by currency challenges, economic policy inconsistencies, a frail health system and an unstable political environment, the COVID-19 outbreak presents the hardest test for Zimbabwe’s national leadership. Basic foodstuffs in the country may run out of shelves within a week, and cases of the epidemic may also rise significantly within a week.   It is time for Zimbabwe’s leadership to stand up and save a generation.

The closure of national borders and issuance of travel bans is action in the right direction by Mnangwagwa, but without capacitated treatment centres, even the recently launched Parirenyatwa COVID-19 Response centre would be rendered useless in Zimbabwe’s race to save lives.

If citizens had stable financial savings and industry had adequate food stocks, it would make sense for Zimbabwe to also shut down for the next 21 days. But with inflationary pressures and the impact of energy outages on productivity, Zimbabwe is under siege. It is time for Zimbabwe’s private sector to take the lead in their COVID-19 fight to save businesses, and to save a generation.  As it stands, president Mnangagwa and team have hard decisions to make and basic resources to avail.