Safer in Zimbabwe

Murungu Jerry

I have always felt that being born in England was somehow accidental and wires must have got crossed somewhere along line, as I feel that Zimbabwe is my own true spiritual home. I’ve been visiting for some years now and visit whenever possible. Because of commitments in the UK this has been limited to at least annually, but sometimes six monthly. However, if all goes well in the next couple of years I hope to be able to stay long term and make it my permanent home.

It has not been uncommon when some people in the UK are aware that I am travelling to Africa that they query if it is safe to go there. The political, economic and climatic disaster situations are raised. Obviously, the crime rate is always mentioned; the risk of abduction, mugging, rape and murder. Food poisoning and unclean water must surely be a concern, they ask. And then of course, there are the perceived health dangers; the infectious diseases, risk of terminal snake and insect bites or being attacked by one of the larger, big five animals, rabies…etc…etc…The list is endless. So, people are shocked when I tell them that I feel safer in Zimbabwe than in the UK.

Of course, I don’t tell them how ignorant they are; stupid beyond belief, really. Their perceptions are based upon an out dated portrayal of Africa. The superior western view that everything outside of their societal experience is bound to be of a lower order. People are surprised when I inform them that of course there is Wi-Fi and that a lot of the populations are generally tech-savvy. In some cases I tell them, that some countries had wide spread mobile telephone banking before we did in the UK. The digital revolution has happened and is still happening unabated across the African continent. Yes there is still poverty, hunger and corruption as in every society, but I advise people, that the west needs to get its own house in order before highlighting the issues of other continents around the world.

And then the Corona virus (Covid 19) came along; a global pandemic like no other in our life time. Only a few weeks in, and the broad consensus of opinion in the west was: What will become of Africa? How will they survive this? Disaster is inevitable…poor souls. Millions of deaths were predicted.

Pic cred: WebMD

So, I was disappointed but understanding of the circumstances, when my flight in April 2020 was cancelled because of the pandemic. It looked possible that it might go ahead again in August; but this too was also cancelled. The reason for this was because the Zimbabwean government had restricted incoming flights for all but returning residents. I had no truck with this as it was protecting its population. Borders were closed and a strict regime of restrictions introduced. And this indeed appeared to have good effect: a low case rate and very few deaths. I heard it said that, “Ah, but you can’t believe their statistics.” But guess what? I actually didn’t believe the figures that the UK government were churning out; and still don’t.

I’m certain the Zimbabwean government has had its critics about how it has handled the pandemic, but I can tell you from personal experience that it appears to have been far better than how the UK Conservative government have acted. The whole management of the pandemic has been a debacle. Thousands of deaths could have been avoided if the right decisions had been made at the right time. A pathetic reluctance to enforce necessary restrictions upon a population which needed it and also to give instructions in no uncertain terms; clear and direct, of what was essential to attempt to control the pandemic. And then there were the shortages of protective equipment, lack of resources, necessary contingency plans and the possible corruption of awarding multi-million pound contracts without tendering. Hence, the UK has the worst death rate in Europe and one of the highest pro-rata, death rate per population than almost any other country in the world. Consequently, as I write the deaths are now above 100,000. And yet the UK has the audacity to class Zimbabwe as a high risk country for the virus. A country like so many others in Africa, which have already had experience in dealing successfully with other medical emergencies: Ebola and cholera being two recent cases in point.

International flights finally commenced again on 1st October. I flew out on this very day; the first opportunity available. I had a private Covid test 48 hours prior to flying, to enable me to fly. On arrival at Harare, at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport I waited patiently as each passenger was processed through a strict system. Each passenger was sprayed with sanitiser had their temperature checked and had to evidence a recent negative Covid test. I also had to fill in two questionnaires to enable contact and tracing. It was a slow but necessary process. Once outside the airport and in Harare and its environs, I was aware that people were generally wearing masks all of the time and continued to do so, even in temperatures of close to 30 degrees. During the next month I observed virtually the whole population following this practice.

Pic cred: nottingham.ac.uk

In the UK, people rarely wear masks; only in shops etc and even then, not always. There are no temperature checks and optional sanitiser use. Some people just ignore the rules and continue to meet and party as if there is no problem; without social distancing or wearing masks. 

In fact, during my month long visit, every building of every type in which I entered, I was greeted pleasantly by a person on door duty that sprayed my hands with sanitiser and took my temperature. Everywhere I went I observed social distancing. The Zimbabwean approach to containing the virus has been strict and initially curfews were in place and permission was necessary to travel away from your home. As restrictions were lowered, the population continued to follow instructions and are to be praised for their fortitude.

Pic cred: Bloomberg.com

On the day of my departure, I (and my luggage) was again sprayed, before having my temperature checked and evidence checked of another recent negative Covid test and that I had completed the British Home Office passenger locator document. Everyone wore masks for the entire flight. On arrival at Heathrow, I went through passport control and customs. I had spotted signs requiring passengers to be ready to show their passenger locator documents and I assumed evidence of a negative Covid test. However, this did not happen, I was not once asked to show anything at all. In fact, I spoke to no one at all at the airport. I was also not sanitised (nor my luggage), nor did I have my temperature checked. Unbelievably, there were no checks at all. Once outside in the general community I observed, as when I left, no one wearing masks in public. 

Zimbabwe has obviously handled the Corona virus far better than the embarrassing ineptitude of the UK government, where I am at great risk, as 100,000 deaths (and still rising) attests. The expected second wave is now sweeping across the planet and although I want to travel back to Zimbabwe soon, it will not be possible. This is a great shame, as I would feel far safer there. The Zimbabwean people appear to have a default attitude to protect and respect the lives of others as well as their own. Long may this continue.

Keep smiling and keep safe.

Murungu Jerry
Author: Murungu Jerry

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