South Africa has an unemployment rate that is realistically 40% of the working population – even before Covid hit. Zimbabwe had something like 80% unemployment.
“Meal-to-meal” is how many live in African countries. If the government locks you down, where do you get your next meal from? The lockdown was cruel, it was starving people. It was the most short-sighted, ignorant, arrogant and evil concept to erupt out of current “civilization.”
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The above photo was taken by a South African colleague during the worst of the lockdown. Her comment: “…curious how this is ‘allowed’ but my business is still unable to restart…” There were some deep frustrations at the apparent double-standards applied by the government who turned a blind eye to this but then arrested folks on the beach.
“Meal-to-meal” is how many live in African countries. Subsistence farming where you can live off the land you own is considered a luxury. There is no land to cultivate in the townships and shanty towns that circle most cities and towns in African nations. You have to get out and hustle for that day’s food. Through the informal economy, through selling your labour, through begging. This is the normal existence. So how does a person eat if you force them into lockdown? They don’t, is the answer.
In a shantytown, a family of 5 may be living in what would pass as a garden shed here in the wealthy West. They have no electricity. No running water. No Netflix. No Amazon. The Western Laptop Class deciding and imposing their ignorant policies on a world that is the Upside Down of their reality. It was insane and inhumane.
In South Africa, this meant that lockdowns only existed in the better-off suburban areas. God forbid you went to walk on a beach in South Africa or walked your dog in your street. They would arrest you. But the townships and the taxis that served the people living there had to be given free rein. This resulted in odd situations where businesses were shut but you would find 25 people crammed in a taxi. The sale of alcohol was banned in South Africa, but my friends in Zimbabwe were able to get shipments of wine from South Africa – and making Pineapple beer was everyone’s new hobby! Cigarettes were banned (which led to hysterically funny videos and memes – South Africans are known for their dark humour), but the ban led to the rise of a huge black market in cigarettes from which some of our esteemed leaders are benefiting. Never let an opportunity for self-enrichment escape you.
I railed against lockdowns. The South African government convinced the World Bank they needed half a billion rand to keep the country alive during Covid. That money never made it to the person on the street. Like most funding sent to African governments, it found its way into several people’s Swiss bank accounts.
The man and woman and child on the street starved. They lived off donated food that my friends gave out. Game reserves handed out food to local communities living around the reserves. It was the kindness of people – not the government that saved lives.
Lockdown was cruel. It was starving people. South Africa lost 51% of its GDP during the first lockdown. It was the most short-sighted, ignorant, arrogant and evil concept to erupt out of current “civilization.” As a friend said to me on this trip back home – African leaders fall into one or more of 3 categories: incompetent, indifferent or involved (as in “hand in the cookie jar”). I think we can say the same for Western leaders. They faked compassion whilst instituting measures that separated families, sometimes countries apart. They pretended their measures were based on science, when in fact, and Dr. Robert Malone can correct me, there is no proof that lockdowns helped stop any spread of the virus.
While back home, my brother asked me why Covid still spreads in China. I said because they’ve never allowed natural immunity to take hold. They keep isolating people. This means that no one gets Covid which would give them natural immunity. The Chinese are always dealing with massive breakouts precisely because they lock everything down for WEEKS. The best thing to happen to us in the West was probably Omicron.
Another South African friend made this astute observation over lunch: “When did Covid end? 23 February 2022. Because on 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.”
What is clear is that they were an utter disaster in South Africa and Zimbabwe and probably many other African countries. I may never understand why governments in Africa decided it was a good idea to follow the insanity the West was displaying. I would have expected some practical level-headedness. Maybe that’s my own short-sightedness.
Fast forward to this month, where I have been “visiting” my home country of South Africa and have taken a side trip to Zimbabwe.
“Everyone had to become a gardener. Everyone lost weight. There was no meat,” Thabo, my taxi driver, recalls.
Thabo is driving me from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls. I had spent 5 days horse-riding in what is the largest national park in Zimbabwe and was about to cross the border to ride (horses, again) in Zambia (yes, I have the same affliction as the Malones when it comes to those four-legged creatures).
The road that stretches out ahead of us dates from British colonial times, says Thabo.
Apparently, it’s held up far better than the roads the Chinese build.
Talking of Chinese, we pass truck after truck pillaging the coal from the surrounding bushveld. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up what bribes were paid to which politicians to purchase the raping rights. Corruption is rife in African governments. I guess this is the case in every government around the world, but it seems to hurt the average African more than it hurts us in the US (where I now live).
“There was an NGO program where they paid us to pick up the rubbish in the street. They gave us some mielie meal [maize] and cooking oil. That was it.” Jeez.
“How bad was Covid in Zim?” I ask demurely.
“I know only of three people who died of Covid. But they had chronic disease. They were already sick before…” he replies.
“Co-morbidities?” I offer. This was a word I learnt in April 2020 along with everyone else.
We didn’t know how serious it was in our communities. Not a lot of locals got sick. On the TV it was just statistics.”
“Did you get vaccinated?”
Thabo shakes his head.
“Not everyone got vaccinated. Vic Falls companies forced people to take the vaccines to work. If you wanted to work with tourists, you had to get vaccinated. I feel like I had no choice. We could choose between two Chinese vaccines.”
Yikes, I think. Or maybe not. We never got the Chinese vaccines here in the US, so perhaps they are better than the Pfizer/Moderna ones? Questions to ask Dr. Malone next time, I ponder.
“Take the vaccine – what for? We knew that a lot of conspiracies exist about the vaccine but we had no choice.”
No choice. Those words again.
“The government put these lockdowns in place. But how can we live? We can’t stay in our house and starve. We would rather get Covid than die from hunger. People died from hunger.”
“What happened?” I egg him on.
Thabo gazes at the tarmac and recalls:
“You needed a letter from the police to move around. People thought – you want us to die in the houses? You can’t tell people not to work but give them no other way to make a living. It was hand to mouth. We were very cross. After two weeks of lockdown, everyone came out of their house. Rather die by the pandemic than stay indoors. We need to eat. We couldn’t survive. People moved from the towns to the villages. We could at least garden and eat what we grow.”
Thabo is smart. Probably the same age than me or perhaps younger. It’s difficult to tell. Life hasn’t been as kind to him as me. He is eloquent and understands the world beyond his country. I try to “be” him for a moment. Could I grow my own vegetables? I can’t even keep my peace lily alive in my apartment with all the water and sunshine it could possibly need. I live in a city in the US. I shop every day for food. If I lost my job, and money dried up, what would I do? I honestly don’t know. I have no garden in my high-rise building. If “Shoprite” shuts down, and Amazon stops delivering food, I will starve. Hell, it pissed me off no end when Starbucks closed down for months.
Uncomfortable thoughts. I push them out of my mind.
“People come to see the animals here. There were no tourists. Nothing. No money. The government didn’t give the people anything.”
Thabo fumes. Zimbabwe seems to have pulled the short straw when it came to governments.
Victoria Falls is a little oasis of tourist-funded economic vibrancy. With travel bans, no flights, worldwide lockdowns, there would be zero tourists. No people for Thabo to ferry around and charm.
“Jobs are very tight here. You hold onto what you have.”
For every job, there must be eight people that would step into that job. Zimbabweans cling to their job as a lifeline. And the cost of living here is incomprehensible even to me – a South African that lives in the US. The Victoria Falls airport café wanted US$3 for a lousy cup of instant coffee. The average Zimbabwean earns US$200 a month if they are lucky. IF. And then what is US$3 in Zimbabwe currency? According to the black market, that could be anywhere from several million Zimbabwean dollars to several billion depending on the day and what the President has decided to do when he woke up that morning and pondered what new disasters he could inflict on his people over his own morning coffee.
Out of interest, I ask Thabo why Zimbabwe keeps their own currency and doesn’t just move wholesale to the US dollar. His answer is interesting:
“The politicians make money off printing their own money… some time back, when they decided to peg the Zimbabwean dollar to the US dollar ZW$750 to US$1, they made all the banks convert the US dollars citizens had in their US dollar accounts to Zim dollars and they pocketed the difference…”
Holy moly. People must have been made destitute overnight. Especially the pensioners.
The constant question I had in my visit to Zimbabwe is how do these people – such warm, wonderful, welcoming people – survive? Maybe I’ve been living in the first world too long, but I cannot fathom how Thabo kept himself and his family alive.
Thabo admits that during Covid, they didn’t eat one decent meal.
Up here in the Northeast of America, we think of life as tough for those living from pay check to pay check. But that’s “first world think.” These people live from meal to meal. Hardcore. And if the government locks you down, where do you get your next meal from?
No doubt the politicians probably went to bed with full bellies.
Thabo says, “Here the Health Minister was fired. Sixty million disappeared that was given to the government by the WHO.”
Urgh. Africans deserve better politicians.
Some additional “light” reading:
- COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe: a disaster for farmers
- The Weaponisation of the Coronavirus Crisis in Zimbabwe: Legal and Extra-Legal Instruments
- Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 lockdown: Ensuring the right to food for the poor
- Lockdown Didn’t Work in South Africa: Why It Shouldn’t Happen Again
- Zimbabwe Covid-19 Poverty Monitor: May 2022
- Pasha 88: Lockdown and young people living on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe
- Workers in Informal Economy Shun Virus Lockdown Rules
- The impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on Zimbabwe’s informal economy
- Zimbabwe’s Deadly Duo: Covid-19 and Corruption
- Implications of COVID-19 Lockdown on South African Business Sector
About the Author
Justine Isernhinke is a South African lawyer who has been living in the United States for the past 10 years. But “my heart lies in South Africa,” she says. Before moving to the US she lived in London and Bermuda. The above is extracted from an article titled ‘Out of Africa during the Covid crisis’ published on Dr. Robert Malone’s Substack. You can read the full article HERE.
Featured image: “Zimbabwe Is Still Under COVID-19 Lockdown” – Police, 19 November 2020
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