By Jones Musara: Senior Correspondent
On 27 March 2020, His Excellency, The President of Zimbabwe and Commander-in-Chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde E.D Mnangagwa gave a timely, wise and necessary directive to put Zimbabwe under a total lockdown effective 30 March 2020 for 21 days. This directive was widely welcomed by Zimbabweans and beyond as a decisive measure to counter and contain the spread of Covid19 which is wreaking havoc across the world in multiple damages ranging from illness, deaths, closure of businesses, disruption of life routines such as travelling, going to working or school among many other challenges.
The warm welcome to the President's directive even came from some known harsh opponents who at their peak can even accuse him of raising dust when he is on water. Nelson Chamisa who lost to the President at the 2018 Election and has been bitter since, described the President's directive as necessary, wise and supported. That speaks volumes about how much right the decision. That is what we mean when we say “Zimbabwe is in safe Hands”
Before the directive came into effect (30 March 2020) this writer noted that the lock down mood had already cascaded across the nation with a firm grip as expected of any directive that comes from a decisive national leader. The #V11s of that grip manifested in multiple ways which I express below based on Harare as the representative sample in terms of business and economic activity.
On the 28th of March 2020, I conducted personal observations in Harare CBD and the outskirts of Harare. My first port of call was the ZANU PF Headquarters(HQ) itself to check if the Presidential directive was being followed. Indeed, charity must begin at home. The ZANU PF HQ is usually a beehive of activity but on this occasion I was greeted by an empty front yard, empty hallways and largely empty offices.
The emptiness applied to both human and vehicular traffic. The Politburo Secretaries and Departmental Directors at the Zanu PF HQ had since directed all Departments to adopt a skeletal staff contingent measure in preparation for the lockdown.
Most of the staff had been directed to go on rotation or to work from home. I bumped into the newly appointed Director of the Party’s Information and Publicity Department Cde Tafadzwa Mugwadi who confirmed he was working with a skeletal staff of 2 out of more than 15 staff members. The rest of his staff had been deployed to work from home wherever possible. I said this is what we call ‘walking the talk of lockdown, social distancing among other anti-Covid 19 measures.’
From the Zanu PF HQ I went to Rainbow Towers where I was also welcomed by a largely empty parking lot and lounge. I drove around town and passed through Crown Plaza lounge which was unusually quiet and deserted.
I spoke to one of the servers who confirmed that they were not having much customers and guests following the lockdown. This drastic reduction of customers’ inflow was the same story at Meikles Hotel.
On supermarkets, the situation had gone to another level and that level was of customers flooding the supermarkets for last minute buying and stocking in preparation for the lockdown. I went to OK Mart in Arcardia where I was immediately welcomed by traffic congestion as I approached.
I patiently waited for about 45 minutes in traffic before eventually entering the parking lot where I had to wait about 25 minutes for a vacant parking slot. I also had to do some shopping in preparation for the lockdown so I joined the queue which was meandering outside the shop for at least 100 metres.
In the queue I noticed that the presidential directive relating to social distancing and hygiene was being practised as shoppers made effort to stand at least 1 metre apart.
Meanwhile the Security Guards were providing sanitizers to customers upon entry and exit. They were also allowing only 25 customers at a time in the shop. After waiting for what seemed like a whole half day, I entered the shop where I noticed quite a number of notices on the shelves limiting quantities that customers could buy.
I swiftly grabbed some food items, headed for the till, paid my dues, got cleared by security then headed out to the outskirts for more personal observations.
I drove along Mnangagwa Drive and observed on-the road traders who were making frantic efforts to get rid of their wares before the lockdown. Their common sales pitch was that they had lowered their prices so that by lockdown date they would be at home.
This was the common story at Mupedzanhamo and Machipisa where the common chants centred around discounted prices to get rid of wares before the lockdown in light of the Presidential directive which ordered closure of all businesses except food selling stores and other essential services such as producers and distributors of medical goods, utilities, state security among others.
My final port of call on this day were the Money Transfer agents such at Western Union and World Remit. I drove to Avondale Shopping Centre where I noted long and meandering queues at the two Western Union centres there.
Most of the customers I spoke to said they were making last minute efforts to collect their monies since money transfer agents were telling them they would close during the lock down. This was the common theme at Western Union and World Remit at RBZ, Parkade among others.
On the 29th of March I drove around the same places I had toured the previous day and noted the same situation. The President and Government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as The Ministry of Industry and Commerce were to give further impetus to lockdown preparations by introducing Statutory Instrument 83 and Press Statement respectively clarifying what constituted essential services as well as stipulating the means and ways of enforcing the Presidential directive.
These have been well received as well judging by the images that circulated at the time of writing today 30 March 2020. The images attached below show a deserted Harare in what clearly confirms that when the President speaks, the people listen. Indeed, the lockdown has effectively got underway Zimbabwe.
The Listening President has spoken, and its our turn to listen.