The Zimbabwean government, like any other government in the world is struggling to contain the covid-19 pandemic. Every country, from the developed north to the developing South have all put measures to stop the corona virus scourge. However, only when minimum, but sufficient, human rights measures are upheld to the maximum that the pandemic will subside and ultimately disappear. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Zimbabwean can help beating COVID-19.
Other rights will be forgone, such as the right to freedom of assembly and association, to enforce social distancing which is essential in preventing community transmission. Social distancing is one critical prevention mechanism. However, the right to food, the right to safe and clean water, the right to healthcare and the right to be protected from discrimination, among other rights are essential agencies to beat the COVID-19 pandemic. For Zimbabwe, the constitution upholds these rights explicitly in the Bill of Rights; hence, the government’s failure to meet its constitutional obligations, alone, is an emergency response failure to COVID-19.
The Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, the Zimbabwe NGO Forum, and the Zimbabwe Peace Project, among other civic organizations in Zimbabwe have observed the government’s failure to uphold human rights in response to COVID-19. For example, on;
The Right to food and water – Section 77 of the constitution guarantees the right to sufficient food and safe, clean and portable water. However, the government declared the lockdown without putting in place safety nets that enable citizens to have adequate and full access to food. In search of food, people continue queuing in shops and markets without observing social distancing, which poses a serious health threat. Mealie-meal, for instance, remains in short supply and when available people fight for the little and in the process forget the importance of maintaining a distance on one metre as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Joined with the right to food is the right to water– hand washing and good personal hygiene, at all times, is an essential condition to combat the COVID-19 pandemic across the world. However, in Zimbabwe access to water is a struggle which literally implies a national response failure to address the corona virus prevention measures. In Harare and its surrounding dormitory towns of Chitungwiza and Norton, for example, communities have gone for months without access to clean and safe water. This means average families that cannot afford buying water are at risk of contracting COVID-19 because literally they cannot exercise good personal hygiene as required. Only if the Government of Zimbabwe had considered ensuring that all Zimbabweans have access to sufficient food and safe, clean and portable water that people will respect both social distancing and the #StayHome lockdown conditions
The right to information – disinformation and lack of access to accurate and timely information could lead to increased community infections and multiple deaths. The Zimbabwean government has curtailed the disclosure of COVID-19 from health institutions and local councils, observes the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights). The extent of deaths and infections magnitude of COVID-19 must be known by all citizens, not only because the Constitution upholds the right accurate information, but also because if there is adequate information to citizens high social consciousness emerges, which allows people to prevent community infections and improve protection by adhering to best practices as recommended by the government itself and the WHO, in response to the pandemic. As such, respecting section 61 of the constitution providing for the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media is essential to beating COVID-19.
The Right to health care – when all citizens have access to healthcare it becomes easy for the infected to come forward for testing and self-quarantine accordingly. Those infected by the corona virus deserve urgent access to healthcare without discrimination as required by section 76 of the constitution. Section 76 indicates that every Zimbabwean has the right to access basic healthcare services and none should be refused emergency medical treatment at any health institution yet COVID-19 patients are often turned away from public institutions and forced to self-quarantine and treat themselves. Access to private health facilities is just extremely expensive in Zimbabwe. The government owned health institutions such as the Wilkins Hospital meant to handle COVID-19 cases is ill-equipped and being there is a death trap, as was the case with Zororo Makamba. This alone means the poor, if infected, will by no means enjoy the right to healthcare. Besides the COVID-19 patients the medical staffs itself is vulnerable to the diseases given the poor state of public health institutions.
Only if the government respects the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, that the country will be a step closer to beating the COVID-19 pandemic. Zimbabwe is going through a severe economic crisis that if Human Rights are not respected, the poor will be hit hard by the corona virus. It is appreciated, however, that in time of emergencies all rights that are a pedestal to fighting natural calamities may be forgone. Zimbabwe’s Constitution is the key tool to beat COVID-19.