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Zimbabweans Blame Government for COVID-19 Deaths of Officials

Pallbearers carry the coffin of a government minister, Dr. Ellen Gwaradzimba, who died of COVID-19, at the Heroes Acre in Harare, Jan. 21, 2021. As of Jan. 23, Zimbabwe had lost four Cabinet ministers and several senior officials to the virus.

A surge in coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe has included the deaths of two Cabinet ministers in 48 hours.

The government announced Friday night that Transport Minister Joel Matiza had died of COVID-19. On Wednesday, the president's office said Sibusiso Busi Moyo, Zimbabwe’s minister of foreign affairs and international trade, had died of complications related to COVID-19.

Zimbabweans have taken to social media to blame the deaths on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which takes senior officials abroad for treatment instead of rehabilitating the country's collapsed health care delivery system.

Critics say Mnangagwa and his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, never bothered to upgrade hospitals or adequately pay health workers, who have recently been on strike for more personal protective equipment and better salaries.

Munashe Bradnick, 31, an accountant, noted that Zimbabweans were not celebrating the deaths of senior government officials.

“I am not so much about their deaths, but how they lived," Bradnick said. "At a personal level, I am mourning the lives that they spent killing others, looting resources, instead of spending on education and health, which would have saved them at this crucial moment.

“So, reminding them that they should have spent money on education and not looting is not a celebration. But it is just a lesson to those who are remaining in ZANU-PF. We must not be killed for demanding better health because COVID is not a respecter of persons. When it comes, it does not respect your office, doesn’t respect your status in society. It just kills you. So here we are not celebrating anything, we are just reminding them that life is sacred. Even for us, we need to survive.”

Following the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths, Zimbabwe’s deputy health minister, Dr. John Mangwiro, said in a statement that “complacency and negligence” over the festive season were major causes. He said people should take more precautions and adhere to the dusk-to-dawn curfew government imposed early this month.

Clifford Hlatshwayo, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, said the recent surge in coronavirus cases confirmed that lockdowns alone had failed to contain the pandemic.

“Zimbabwe [has] more than 90 percent of its population in the informal sector and those in the streets just roaming around," he said. "Those are the people who do not have money to go to China. Government [is] able to jet to China to get proper medical things. Our health institutions are in a sorry state. And for years the government has not shown interest in upgrading them and making sure that our health institutions are equipped with proper and adequate equipment. Our frontline workers do not have adequate PPEs, drugs, even oxygen.”

In a state of the nation address broadcast Saturday on national television, Mnangagwa said his government was assessing coronavirus vaccines that have been developed worldwide, but he was worried about the spike in COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe.

Coronavirus has now infected more than 30,000 citizens and killed nearly 1,000, including four Cabinet ministers and several senior officials.

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