Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced during a press briefing, that his government has postponed independence day celebrations and discouraged locals from travelling to all affected countries, even though the country has no detected cases so far of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Harare on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)
Amid a spiralling economic and political crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed the people of Zimbabwe on Tuesday 4 August. His speech, although sudden – four days after his government’s violent clampdown on the July 31 citizen protests – was highly anticipated. There may have been a desperate hope in some sections of the bruised citizenry that the president would, perhaps in the remotest of ways, acknowledge their suffering and hint at atoning for the state’s brutality. However, the ‘crocodile’ neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the widespread grievances against his leadership nor took any responsibility for bringing the country to this precipice. Instead, President Mnangagwa argued that his administration “has been undermined by the divisive politics of the opposition, sanctions, cyclones, droughts and now COVID19”, and blamed widespread protests on “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors.” The President’s speech exposed a tone deaf and intransigent government at war with its long-suffering citizens.
For the past two decades Zimbabwean citizens have engaged in diverse, valiant efforts to use every legally available avenue to expedite democratic reform. Many Zimbabwean citizens have made heroic efforts to shed light on the gross corruption and mismanagement that has characterised ZANU-PF’s rule and created a staggering man-made disaster. They are currently caught between a regime willing to go to any lengths to crackdown on dissent, the need to navigate the day-to-day difficulties of securing precarious livelihoods, and the fear of contracting COVID-19. In the face of an unrelenting regime and rising from the crushed hopes of 31 July 2020 protests, Zimbabwean citizens have grafted the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign onto ‘the energy and anger of the global’ outcry that #BlackLivesMatter. Can the South African government, whose President has taken an unequivocal stance on #BlackLivesMatter continue on an indeterminate posture on the plight of its neighbour’s black lives? Their economic and political fate, as aptly observed by SAIIA CEO Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, is intertwined with its own and that of the region.
South Africa is ideally placed to push for change in Zimbabwe, with the two countries sharing many social, political, and economic ties. South Africa remains one of the country’s most important trading partners. Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its total imports and exports 75 percent of its total exports to South Africa. However, despite the countries’ growing stake in each other’s fates, South Africa’s response to the deepening crisis across the Limpopo leaves much to be desired. Zimbabwe is now considered one of the four most food-insecure countries in the world, alongside Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. More than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 15.6 million people are considered food insecure. Around one in three children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition. The country has the highest inflation rate in the world at around 800 percent, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects economic contraction of 10.4 percent in 2020, following a 12.8 percent contraction in 2019.
The healthcare system has collapsed, and every day Zimbabwean citizens face persistent fuel shortages and rolling blackouts. The number of Zimbabweans using illegal entry points along the Limpopo River to access medical services and basic commodities has dramatically increased in recent weeks, heightening the chances of cross-border transmission of COVID-19 in both directions. As many desperate Zimbabweans will make the dangerous journey south, the South African government is poorly prepared to deal with an escalating migrant crisis. The country is wrestling with its own record unemployment levels. Increasingly, regional integration and the flow of people, commodities, knowledge and information means that insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere, challenging the principle of non-interference which has guided foreign relations between southern African states and become institutionalized in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Decades of non-interference, liberation politics, and ‘quiet diplomacy’ on behalf of the ANC has simply allowed a political and military elite in Zimbabwe to plunder the country’s resources, undermine democracy, and create an economic crisis with implications for the wider Southern African region.
A more urgent and concrete stance is imperative. It is befitting therefore that after what had seemed like another bout of silence, the Government of South Africa, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) ‘noted with concern the reports related to human rights violations in the Republic of #Zimbabwe’. However, from the Mbeki to Zuma administrations, this political gesturing is well-worn. Building on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, a campaign that has attracted resounding regional and international intervention calls from ordinary citizens, celebrities, politicians, diplomats and multi-lateral institutions alike, it is now ‘easier for SA and the SADC to begin a meaningful engagement with all stakeholders’. But will they? South Africa in particular has an opportunity as a strategic arbiter to harness all these voices across multiple platforms that can begin the work of persuading stakeholders to come to the negotiating table. It is time for the South African government to boldly break out of the ‘liberation war-pact’ cocoon and stand with the citizens of Zimbabwe.
DIRCO’s emphasis on government to government engagement, reported to have been initiated through a telephonic call between Dr. Naledi Pandor and her Zimbabwean counterpart Dr. Sibusiso Moyo, seems to thwart any hopes for including citizen voices. Dr. Pandor’s non-committal reference to ‘South Africa’s readiness to assist if requested’ does not imbue confidence of a radical departure from previous administrations. President Mnangagwa’s 4 August speech and Government Spokesperson Nick Mangwana’s press release (two days later) declaring reports of human rights violations as ‘false’ are not a request for assistance. South Africa now needs to build the diplomatic muscle required to crack through Harare’s hardball defence. Through the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign, the Zimbabwean citizens’ request for assistance has been unambiguously echoed and clearly endorsed regionally and globally. As well noted by the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa, Chris Maroleng, ‘…it is incumbent on…especially…government… in South Africa to stand up and basically call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease and desist from such anti-democratic behaviour.’ South Africa has a unique opportunity to get it right this time. Many are ready to assist.
This article originally appeared in Business Day.
Extractives: green industrialisation
The business case for greening the extractive industry is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing
Sentinel copper mine in Zambia
Photo: Ross Harvey / courtesy of Sentinel Copper Mine
Everything we consume has its origins in either agriculture or the extractive industries. Our smartphones are laden with minerals and metals. Even agricultural fertilisers come from mined minerals. But the way we’ve extracted, historically, has been both ecologically and socio- economically destructive. Across many jurisdictions, mineral and hydrocarbon extraction has produced negative externalities – a divergence between private returns and social costs. In other words, it’s left holes in the ground, decimated ecosystems and imposed a healthcare burden on workers.
Acid mine drainage (AMD) in South Africa provides one example. It occurs when pyrite (fool’s gold) comes into contact with oxygenated water. The consequent oxidation process produces sulphuric acid. Pyrite is a common minor constituent in South Africa’s coal and gold ore bodies. Mining fragments these bodies and large quantities of acidic water are released into the environment, initially into the groundwater and ultimately into streams and rivers, rendering the water toxic to varying degrees. Large settlements in the Witwatersrand area now live with the risks posed by this toxic water and associated sinkhole formation.
AMD expert Terence McCarthy notes that mining has funded much of South Africa’s development, but as it enters its twilight “we are now beginning to grasp the environmental damage that the [gold mining] industry has caused and will continue to cause in the decades to come. We have also seen the impact that coal mining has had, particularly on water quality in the Olifants River system.” We must learn from these experiences and prevent further coal mining in key freshwater catchments and rivers.
Beyond AMD, a recent court settlement in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg awarded a total of R5 billion in compensation to mine workers afflicted by silicosis or tuberculosis contracted while mining at six of South Africa’s gold mining companies between 1965 and 2019. Had these costs appeared on the offending companies’ ﬁnancial statements, they likely would not have been offloaded onto the adjacent communities who could least afford it. Globally, estimates suggest that 24.5 deaths are attributable to each Terawatt hour of coal-ﬁred electricity produced.
Coal is a health hazard, not only to those who mine it but also to those who live near coal-burning power stations. In addition to mining’s direct negative externalities, the short-term rents generated by mining have often precipitated authoritarian consolidation, inequality, corruption and generally poor governance. Elites have captured the spoils at the expense of broad-based beneﬁt. This malaise is part of a broader problem – our economic models (and resultant activity) have ignored planetary boundaries, the limits of what our interconnected life-support systems can sustain. We are consequently at risk of inducing catastrophic climate change.
If greenhouse gas emissions are not severely curtailed, or biodiversity-killing pollution not upended, ecological disaster awaits. Global collective action is now required to change the way that we produce and consume. A major part of that new policy direction has to entail the greening of the extractive industries and the integral connection of mining to green industrialisation. Not only is this possible; it’s imperative. The business case complements the moral case. Such a reorientation would simultaneously address the negative legacy effects of mining and create sustainable links to other sectors of the economy.
The technological quest for a low-carbon economy is well underway. Transport and energy revolutions are upending old systems. Electric vehicle and renewable energy production, however, require signiﬁcant quantities of minerals and metals – double the volume currently mined, according to the World Bank. But most remaining coal and hydrocarbon deposits will have to be left in the ground, rendering the need for a “just transition” away from dirty technologies to clean ones. To support this transition, the mining industry needs to be reoriented to supplying the minerals and metals required for generating and transmitting renewable energy, for building electric vehicles, and continued inputs for other products such as smartphones and batteries.
Through the adoption of new technologies, we can mine in a less environmentally destructive manner. This would also create upstream opportunities to produce the capital equipment required for less environmentally invasive mining methods. Practically, what might this look like? To begin with, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can transform geological exploration. Sensors on UAVs can detect geothermal activity, which helps exploration ﬁrms to drill and sample only in areas where resources are indicated. In the production phase, robots can work in hazardous environments instead of people, improving mine safety considerably.
Underground deposits can be accessed through relatively minor invasion, akin to laser or “keyhole” surgery. A 2015 paper, ‘A vision of Zero Entry production Areas in Mines’ (ZEPA), co- authored by four scientists from Lulea Tekniska Universitet Institut in Sweden, proposes that in mines “all work processes should be remotely operated or automated, while special mine robots should be developed for the preventive maintenance of equipment and safe retrieval operations”.
The Kankberg Gold Mine in Sweden exemplifies the art of the possible. Boliden (the mining company), in partnership with Ericsson, ABB and Volvo “plans to eventually operate with no personnel in the mine itself”. Connecting different technologies such as a 5G wi-fi network and a Smart Ventilation system, the mine is now completely automated. The resultant process optimisation has saved 54% of the mine’s energy consumption. This represents a saving of 18 MW a year on a mine that previously consumed 34 MW a year.
In South Africa, mining consumes about 15% of the country’s national electricity supply, equivalent to roughly 5,100 MW. If the sector could reduce this demand by half, it would free up 2,550 MW from a supply-constrained grid. The industry paid 86 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for coal-fired power in 2017/18. A reduction of 2,550 MW a year would represent a cost saving of R2.25 million. Further cost savings would be wrought if a larger portion of power was sourced from renewables, as global procurement prices of solar PV power are now around the equivalent of 26c/kWh. Procuring renewable energy and decreasing overall demand is therefore eminently sensible business practice for the mining industry, with positive spillover beneﬁts for society and the environment.
Note that modern mines need to achieve a plant recovery rate of at least 90% to cover escalating ﬁxed costs. With declining grades and the need to mine deeper ore bodies, new methods are required to reduce rock movement, mine more selectively, and achieve quality over quantity. Motivated by these requirements, “in-place” mining and processing at the point of extraction is gaining traction. It will deliver a smaller surface footprint, reduced tailings generation and low-capital-intensive mines. Mining projects could attract ﬁnancing more easily and deliver returns more quickly than with the conventional model.
Emerging digital technologies in automated rock-face mapping, material characterisation and fragmentation analysis, and rock preconditioning can also be built into the equipment and preprogrammed for speciﬁc mines. The machines that cut hard rock are now able to identify and exploit natural rock cleavages to make cutting more efficient. Declan Vogt of the Centre for Scientiﬁc and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa notes: “If rock can be cut rather than blasted, mining can become continuous, leading to process and efficiency improvements.”
Crushing technology is also becoming nimbler, making obsolete the big crushers typically required at processing plants. Employing upstream technology at the rock face, to selectively mine and pre-concentrate material for subsequent metal extraction, avoids the many negative environmental impacts usually associated with mining. In the case of copper, crushing is among the largest components of a mine’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These can be drastically reduced by in-pit mobile crushing, which, according to research scientists Terry Norgate and Nawshad Haque, “eliminates the need for trucks by having the shovel feed the run-of-mine ore directly to a continuous and dedicated belt conveyor handling system”.
Of course, these new technologies are disruptive. Mining will become less directly labour-absorptive and more capital-intensive. But they may also result in lower cost margins and greater wealth creation, which can be allocated towards research and development initiatives that develop local upstream or side-stream capacity. As economist Ricardo Hausmann famously pointed out in 2014, Finland did not become wealthy because it turned its forests into furniture; it became wealthy because the quest for more efficient tree cutting methods produced Nokia. How? Through the development of appropriate technology.
One copper mine in Zambia is charting the way in this respect. Sentinel Mine, adjacent to Kalumbila, is a “pocket of effectiveness” – an example of how mining should and could be done. Input crushing and investments in data analysis, artiﬁcial intelligence and machine learning are already a feature. Once the ore body is depleted, the river – currently diverted – will be restored. Every effort is being made to prevent soil and water contamination. The surrounding forest, part of the ecological restoration programme funded by the mine, currently supports a sawmill and furniture-making factory. When the mine closes, the factory will continue, and the entire concession converted to a nature reserve with a ﬁve-star tourism offering.
The town itself is separated from the mine and boasts an industrial development zone, which can tap into upstream, side-stream and downstream links with mining. The business case for greening the extractive industries is strong, especially with the growing trend of ethical investing and the importance of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) reporting. Internalising the cost of negative externalities, it turns out, is a sound business investment
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Speedy implementation of the comprehensive medical coverage will enhance service delivery, health financing and governance, according to the Chairman of the Council of Governors Wycliffe Oparanya.
“This is a people-centred health system. Its ultimate execution in all the 47 counties in Kenya would have saved many lives, especially at such a time when we are faced with the COVID-19 crisis,” Oparanya, who is also governor of Kakamega County, noted in an interview with Africa In Fact.
President Uhuru Kenyatta declared UHC a national priority on 12 December 2018 as part of a grand development blueprint, known as the “Big Four Agenda”, that sought to sustainably transform the country. Besides healthcare, other pillars on the “Big Four” agenda are food security, manufacturing and affordable housing.
Pressure has been piling up on the Kenya government to accelerate the national roll-out of its proposed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) plan in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the UHC initiative, President Kenyatta committed to make strategic investments in health, with all Kenyans able to access essential medical care by 2022. But the plan appears to have stalled almost 10 months after one-year pilot programmes in Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri counties ended in October 2019.
The Kenyan Government undertook to appraise the project when the test experiments in the four counties were concluded. The exercise would evaluate the UHC package and if necessary, make improvements to it before countrywide roll-out, Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told me.
The evaluation appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified during the trials, Kagwe said in an earlier interview with me, was the monumental demand for care. Medical facilities that are barely developed have been labouring to respond to the huge pressure for care. But insiders say the evaluation has been ignored. (Kagwe did not respond to requests for comment on this.) No further effort appears to have been made to pursue the UHC initiative.
The evaluation of the Universal Health Care pilot projects appears to have been carried out, but not published. One of the main challenges identified was the monumental demand for care.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk. Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako says such challenges could force the union to withdraw its members from facilities until their grievances are addressed. “Frontline workers are neither getting responsibility allowances, [n]or insurance [cover]; this will have spiralling effects on the spread of the virus,” he said.
In a March 2020 peer-reviewed research paper Tessa Oraro-Lawrence and Kaspar Wyss used interviews with informants in the national and county levels of healthcare to establish points of agreement and divergence on the aims of the UHC. On the basis of these interviews they say that “the perceived lack of strategic leadership from Kenya’s national government has led to a lack of agreement on stakeholders’ interpretation of what is to be understood by UHC, its contextual values and priorities”.
The authors note that most interviewees supported the expansion of access to health services, but that conflicting priorities of key stakeholders are slowing progress towards this goal. The conversation around healthcare policy had become highly fragmented, they note. Kenya needs “a centralised, systematic and inclusive process” to drive the development and implementation of UHC. The authors recommend that the national government and particularly the Ministry of Health should “foster collaboration in Kenya’s health space”.
Meanwhile, hospitals are being ineffectively managed, with inadequate budgetary allocations, and demoralised personnel, putting the lives of many Kenyans at risk.
Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose agrees. A trained surgeon and medical doctor, Pukose told me that there is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. “Why would the national government allocate more resources to the health ministry than those allocated cumulatively to the 47 counties’ health docket?” he asked.
Healthcare in Kenya is supposed to be a completely devolved function, but the national government appeared hell-bent on controlling it, he said.
In the last financial year, the national government allocated 5.1% (Sh 90 billion) of its budget to the health sector. Of the Sh 90 billion, recurrent expenditure consumed Sh 49.1 billion while grant transfers to seven semi-autonomous government agencies under the ministry took Sh26.9 billion. The remaining amount was spent on universal health coverage transfers and personnel emoluments. Counties spent 27.2% (Sh 121 billion) of their budgets on health, but experts say the number is still below the 35% commitment made before devolution.
There is a “clearly visible and long-standing strain between county governments and the national government in the running of the health docket”. – Endebess Member of Parliament Robert Pukose.
Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti agrees that tension between county governments and national government on funds allocation to medical care has impacted negatively on their service delivery. “Clear policy action is needed in order to develop a logical and consistent approach towards UHC,” said Kuti, who is also governor of Isiolo County.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” said Kuti. “[But] most of the resources have ended up being misused or stolen while counties struggle with meagre resources to serve the people,” he told me.
For the 2020/2021 financial year which started on 1 July, the Parliamentary Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Sh2.73 trillion ($27.3 billion) for the national and county governments, of which the Health Ministry was allocated Sh111.7 billion ($1.1 billion). Meanwhile, the 47 counties in the country were allocated a total of Sh316.5 billion ($2.9 billion) – but this amount is the same as last year’s allocation, meaning that funding for the counties has stagnated. Moreover, the allocation covers a range of portfolios, says Jackson Mandago, governor of Uasin Gishu county.
“If adequate funds were allocated to counties, we would certainly not be under strain in fighting coronavirus disease,” – Council of Governors Health Committee Chairman Mohammed Kuti
“How do you explain this dismal figure to all the county governments that handle almost all functions ranging from agriculture, infrastructure, health, education, among others?” the governor asked. Relative to the amounts likely to be available to counties for the health portfolio, the allocation to the Ministry of Health was large, he suggested. “It is time counties got the maximum stipulated amount of 35% of the total national budget as envisaged in the Constitution,” he added.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people. According to a series of stories published by the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in the East African region, businessmen close to President Kenyatta and some of his relatives had profited from the inflated prices of various Covid-19-related tenders.
On 3 August, one of the articles reported that the country had secured Sh223 billion ($2.23 billion) from various donor sources – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank – to support its fight against Covid-19, much of which had ended up in the pockets of powerful individuals.
In early August, reports began to emerge that funds meant to mitigate against the deadly disease were being stolen by influential people.
So powerful are the figures behind the theft and corruption that they have even been able to waylay well-wishers’ donations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — a guarded facility — and divert them to private warehouses. As Paul Wafula, the author of the article mentioned above put it, they were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
“Kenya’s health ministry is headed by hyenas. The policymakers’ business is to endanger our lives with their mission to be limitlessly rich,” Kimilili Member of Parliament Didmus Barasa told me. He urged the “hyenas” to stop trying to eat as much as they can within the shortest time possible, and the Ministry of Health to channel funds “to gainful undertakings”. The pandemic had emphasised the need for “high quality research to inform action, not only to combat the coronavirus but also inspire solutions to future pandemics.”
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) CEO Twalib Mbarak says that corruption must be fought ruthlessly, and made “a high-risk, low-return vice. If there [were] full disclosure, transparent and accountable use of resources, counties would be doing their own tests and also reporting their own COVID-19 statistics, which will go a long way in informing policy,” he told me.
They were “waiting for the procurement whistle to be blown” – with the likelihood that it never will.
Constitutional lawyer Wachira Maina says that the country has pursued a range of reforms and launched various commissions of inquiry into corruption without effect. Corruption cases are routinely reported in the media, in the Auditor General’s reports and to EACC, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved. “If any investigation is done, it is aimed at exonerating the powerful or to punish their enemies. Corruption is deeply embedded in politics, which it both funds and subverts,” he observes.
On social media, public opinion about the reported corruption has been vitriolic. Economist Professor David Ndii, in a tweet on 3 August, asked President Kenyatta to check on his “relathieves” from “plundering our taxes with your protection” as the country’s healthcare system suffered a paucity in resources.
Donald Kipkorir, a well-known lawyer, said that a government that had allowed “tenderpreneurs” to profit from pandemics had “surrendered its soul to the devil”.
Beryl Achieng’, a Nakuru town resident, told me she was a Covid-19 survivor. She had been in hospital for nearly three weeks with the disease, she said, but “it was a struggle to access proper care. Drugs were in insufficient supply, [and] doctors also appeared demoralised.” She suspected that donations and resources from well-wishers and development partners were being misused and stolen with the government showing little concern about it.
Corruption cases are routinely reported, but they are rarely fully investigated or even resolved.
Meanwhile, on 2 August it was reported that Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff. She had been pregnant, and gave birth to a baby boy before succumbing to the disease.
UHC is an ambitious scheme to extend proper healthcare to the whole country. But under the present circumstances, even the more incremental improvements in healthcare aimed at battling the Covid-19 pandemic are proving difficult to implement.
Improving healthcare in Kenya will require national and county governments to work together. But this would require a willingness on the part of key stakeholders to put aside their differences in the interests of the greater good. Health funding should be properly distributed, or the structure of health funding as provided for in the constitution revised to ensure sufficient health funding to counties.
Marian Awuor Adumbo, a nurse working at the Rachuonyo sub-county Hospital in Homa Bay in Western Kenya, died of Covid-19 complications in a context of reported shortages of protective gear for medical care staff.
Given the political logjam that prevents adequate funding from reaching hospitals and treatment centres, there appears to be little chance of this being corrected, either in relation to the pandemic, or indeed, to the wider problem of endemic corruption.
As I pointed out in my previous blog, the ruling party has ensured a lack of critical evaluation of its policies and actions by striking a deal with the opposition. Meanwhile, key political stakeholders in healthcare have no interest in revising the structure of health funding, since that would deny them influence over budgets – and access to rents to be derived from them. Similarly, they will have little interest in ensuring proper healthcare funding within the present structures, for the same tawdry reasons.
So the country’s capacity to deal with other potential crises, such as climate change, has been further diminished. With other contributors to this blog series on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries around Africa, I have to agree that in Kenya, too, the pandemic – a global and national emergency – has simply been another opportunity for members of the entrenched elite to conduct business as usual. For them, that means entrenching their power bases and siphoning off public funds.
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Few issues highlight the dilemma of policy-making more than the choices faced by African governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution – preventing workers from earning their daily bread – was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
For others, with large budgets fuelled by loans, the pandemic brought other, more serious, ails.
Take South Africa, for example. When citizens heard the country had secured a R70 billion ($4.3 billion) loan from the international Monetary Fund to support its post-Covid efforts, we were struck by a sense of despair. Why? Because in South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
For many African countries with large numbers of day workers in the informal sector, the lockdown solution was often worse than the problem it sought to solve.
The IMF loan is not without checks and balances. But, apart from the burden of debt, citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians and their business associates.
It is not an overstatement to say South Africans were astounded at the level of corruption during the lockdown. “Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” said the Daily Maverick’s editorial in early August.
With reports of corruption involving state tenders in the fight against COVID-19 circulating, President Cyril Ramaphosa set up a ministerial committee to investigate the issue. Ramaphosa has asked for speedy updates and has promised decisive action.
In South Africa, the longer-term pandemic is corruption.
Among the many reported incidents were suspected deals between government officials and businesses providing medical equipment, huge mark-ups on personal protection equipment and the sale of food aid parcels meant for the poor.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey: “It is difficult to understand the utter lack of conscience that leads a businessperson who has heeded the call to provide lifesaving supplies during a devastating pandemic to inflate the price of a surgical mask by as much as 900%.
“Nor can one explain why a councillor would stockpile emergency food parcels meant for the poor for their own family, or why another councillor would divert water tankers en route to a needy community to their own home.”
Citizens have ample reason to be concerned that the funds will find their way into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
It is impossible to review policy in South Africa without tackling corruption. There is some progress, though slow, in this direction, as JP Landman records in an 18 August article. The country’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has already noted that the country will need a permanent, multi-disciplinary structure to combat corruption.
South Africa, with the fifth highest Covid-19 infection rate in the world, has seen its already fragile economy decimated. The inequality gap has widened as the wealthy have been able to weather the storm from their Wifi enabled homes while poorer manual labourers have struggled from hand to mouth.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society: Inequality, fragile health systems, an under-delivering economy, large joblessness and unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence.
“Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity,” – Daily Maverick editorial
As the country prepares to build back after the pandemic, it is important not to leave behind the most vulnerable. There is sufficient evidence that women have been particularly hard hit with the International Labour Organisation predicting that measures to curb Covid would disproportionately affect women workers.
At least two-thirds of the three million South Africans who were estimated to have lost their jobs in the informal sector are reported to be women. That same research, based on the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, showed that women in the informal economy, and particularly those in informal self-employment, recorded large cuts in working hours and earnings during the lockdown.
The country has a long list of policy making priorities. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has reiterated that the National Health Insurance plan is still on the agenda. Indeed, Dr Nicholas Crisp, a consultant at the Ministry of Health and a key figure in developing the NHI, says that the healthcare public/private partnerships that had been developed to deal with the pandemic have shown that “we can do it”, according to a 28 July report. The government was pushing ahead with its plans to introduce the NHI, the minister said.
Ramaphosa himself described those profiting from the disaster as a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.
But the government’s record on managing health care in the country isn’t great. As I reported in a previous blog, severe mismanagement has seen the (near) collapse of health care systems in at least one province, the Eastern Cape. Meanwhile, overall spending on health care has declined in real terms over the last few years, according to a Section27 report.
Moreover, “in 2017/18 health departments accounted for 57% of unpaid bills by government. Budget constraints are exacerbated by fruitless, wasteful and irregular expenditure (National Treasury, 2019). In 2017/18, departments of health had some of the poorest audit results (AGSA, 2018)”.
Crisp admits that public health care has seen “inefficiencies” and “deficiencies”. This suggests that the problems are merely occasional, and the system is functioning otherwise.
Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines in our society.
But corruption and mismanagement are not incidental. They are structural elements of how the county has been run. It has been calculated that corruption over the second term of Jacob Zuma’s presidency cost the country R1.5 trillion. That amount could pay for the country’s public health care budget for seven and eight years, calculated by this year’s allocation.
For all the promises of change and building back better after the crisis calms, the reality is that South Africa’s policy making has been held hostage to declining levels of accountability for more than two decades. The NHI is a noble goal, but we have seen noble goals abused for corrupt purposes before. We cannot more forward effectively until we deal with the issue of corruption.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions, which the UN has warned may escalate global suffering and jeopardise lives and livelihoods “for years to come”. But in Zimbabwe, senior government officials and their associates have taken advantage of the pandemic to suppress the opposition while looting public funds.
The high-level corruption, which has resulted in the arrest of Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, has also sucked in the first family and left authorities in Harare exposed to some ridicule on social media after a series of ridiculous own goals in a cover-up bid.
In Zimbabwe, senior government officials and their associates have taken advantage of the pandemic to supress the opposition while looting public funds.
A $2 million payment by the government to a two-week-old Hungarian branch of Swiss-registered Drax International in March has attracted the interest of Interpol and Hungarian officials, who have commenced money laundering investigations. Drax International – whose Zimbabwean frontman, Delish Nguwaya, is a convicted criminal and an associate of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Collins – is at the centre of a Covid-19 procurement scandal, which has seen Moyo arrested.
Nguwaya was also arrested following unrelenting public pressure. He has been pictured with Mnangagwa, his sons Collins and Sean, as well as first lady Auxilia Mnangagwa. He is also known to have attended functions at State House despite failing a security clearance conducted by the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Collins was not arrested or questioned over the matter. In a statement released on 29 May, he denied any association with Drax. “I have no business or personal relationship with any of Drax International’s representatives, including Mr Nguwaya,” Collins said. “Legal action will follow any current and further statements made to slander my name, reputation and that of the first family.”
Zimbabweans laughed off the claim he had “no business or personal relationship” with Nguwaya, sharing more pictures on social media to prove the personal relationship. On 28 May, Drax International, through Illir Dedja, listed as the managing partner of the company, issued a statement denying any “partnership and/or association with Zimbabwe’s first family”. The company said Nguwaya was their sole representative in Zimbabwe. It also threatened to sue “all individuals propagating these falsehoods on social media”.
On 4 June, the acting spokesman of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, Patrick Chinamasa, warned journalists and the public against “attacking members of the first family”. “[T]hese baseless attacks … need to stop forthwith,” he said.
The acting spokesman of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, Patrick Chinamasa, warned journalists and the public against “attacking members of the first family”.
Was Drax awarded a $60 million contract to supply Covid-19 medicines and sundries in violation of the country’s procurement regulations, because of Nguwaya’s relations with the first family? Zimbabweans want an answer.
Drax was supplying medical supplies at grossly inflated figures, as revealed by official invoices. For example, the company was providing N95 face masks at $28, yet the average cost of the product is $4 in local pharmacies. A letter dated 8 May, 2020 from Finance Permanent Secretary George Guvamatanga to then Health Secretary Agnes Mahomva authorising procurement, revealed the purchasing figure.
Zimbabweans want an answer.
Curiously, however, when he received a consignment from Drax on 11 April, Mnangagwa claimed the supplies were a “donation” after he made a “personal appeal”. “I am happy that after my personal appeal to Drax, they have [given a] tremendous donation to support the mobilisation effort we are making currently,” he said at State House. “They have donated $60 million to us to procure medicines and equipment.”
To save face, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information, Nick Mangwana, later said the president had been misled into thinking he was receiving a donation. This was after Zimbabweans took to social media to demand answers on his strange statement.
In another embarrassing procurement scandal, the Zimbabwean government confused citizens by claiming it had received testing kits from Namibia. On 21 April, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe had received 4,499 tests kits from Namibia. Mutsvangwa’s revelations raised eyebrows: Namibia does not manufacture Covid-19 test kits. The country was also receiving donations and struggling to roll out mass testing because of a shortage of test kits.
In another embarrassing procurement scandal, the Zimbabwean government confused citizens by claiming it had received testing kits from Namibia.
Namibian Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula denied any knowledge of the donation when contacted by the Namibian Sun. Shangula asked: “Where would we get those tests from? How can we donate when we don’t have enough?”
Clearly, one of the parties here wasn’t being honest. Questions, therefore, continued to be asked in both countries, prompting Namibia’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation to issue a formal statement on 26 June flatly denying the donation and revealing that Zimbabwe’s authorities had apologised, saying that the “allegations” of the donation had been “unfounded and erroneous”. Senior figures in the government in Harare were left with egg on their faces.
Official government documents have exposed that the kits in question had in fact been supplied by a Namibian-registered company, Jaji Investments, linked to Mnangagwa’s aide. Jaji Investments sourced the kits in China, before supplying Zimbabwe at huge cost. Garikai Mushininga, a medical doctor based in Namibia, who said he was the managing director of Jaji Investments, confirmed to the Zimbabwe Independent that he bought the kits in China before they were flown to Zimbabwe by DHL.
Besides corruption, Zimbabwean authorities have been clamping down on the opposition since the national lockdown began on 30 March. On 10 June, UN human rights experts called on Zimbabwe to “immediately end a pattern of disappearances and torture that appear aimed at suppressing protests and dissent”.
Zimbabwean authorities have been clamping down on the opposition since the national lockdown began on 30 March.
This was after three female officials from the country’s biggest opposition party, MDC-A – Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – were arrested at a roadblock on 13 May and detained at Harare Central Police Station. They had earlier participated in a demonstration against government’s failure to provide a social safety net for those most in need.
They were later abducted from police custody by suspected state agents, blindfolded and driven to Bindura – 86 kilometres north of Harare – where they were allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted. They were dumped at a market place 48 hours later.
They were later abducted from police custody by suspected state agents, blindfolded and driven to Bindura – 86 kilometres north of Harare – where they were allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted.
A police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, confirmed their arrest but the police later did an about-turn on this and denied arresting the trio. The MDC officials were charged with violating Covid-19 regulations on public gatherings, as well as with supposedly faking their own abduction.
The UN pointed out that “targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression is a serious violation of human rights law”. It noted that last year, 49 cases of abduction and torture were reported in Zimbabwe.
Last year, 49 cases of abduction and torture were reported in Zimbabwe.
The government also attracted criticism after the police and the military assisted Thokozani Khupe, leader of the MDC-T faction within the opposition party, to take over the MDC-A headquarters, in a dispute between MDC formations. During the lockdown, the police also arrested several MDC-A officials, including co-Vice Presidents Tendai Biti and Lynette Karenyi-Kore, charging them with contravening Covd-19 regulations after they tried to gain entry to their party headquarters following its seizure. They were released on ZW$1 000 bail.
Several lawyers, including Thabani Mpofu who represented MDC-A leader Nelson Chamisa when he challenged Mnangagwa’s victory in the 2018 presidential election, were arrested and charged at the beginning of June for allegedly obstructing the course of justice. Mpofu was charged with allegedly falsifying information by submitting an affidavit by “a non-existent person” (one Simbarashe Zuze) to the Constitutional Court in January 2019, challenging the appointment of Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi.
Zuze, however, recorded a video and produced his identity cards and travel documents, proving he existed. The matter is still pending in court.
Mnangagwa promised to observe human rights and fight corruption after toppling former president Robert Mugabe in a 2017 takeover that he and his supporters deny was a military coup. To the majority of Zimbabweans, however, the military helped to transfer power to another group of connected people in the ruling party, which hasn’t much changed.
Mnangagwa promised to observe human rights and fight corruption after toppling former president Robert Mugabe in a 2017 takeover that he and his supporters deny was a military coup.
Nguwaya appeared in court on 13 June charged with fraud, but the majority of Zimbabweans believe the Mnangagwa administration has no appetite for reform. They believe that Moyo and Nguwaya were arrested only because of public pressure and that no serious action will be taken.
Dr Alex Magaisa, a UK-based Zimbabwean academic and lecturer of law at the University of Kent, who offers cutting-edge analysis and critical insights into Zimbabwean law and politics through his Big Saturday Read blog, on 14 June described Nguwaya’s matter as “a case that is built to collapse”. The state has presented a weak case, and this was deliberate, he argues. “The government wants to create a false and misleading impression that it is taking action against corruption.” The saga was getting too close to the President’s family and several senior government officials, he says.
Health Minister Moyo was arrested, but the state did not oppose bail when he appeared in court, accompanied by his aides. Unlike most other political detainees, Moyo enjoyed a rare privilege and was allowed to sleep at home. Zimbabweans describe these sorts of arrests as “catch and release” antics. Senior officials are often arrested for serious crimes but not seriously prosecuted.
Senior officials are often arrested for serious crimes but not seriously prosecuted.
In November 2019, for example, Presidential Affairs Minister Joram Gumbo was arrested on charges of criminal abuse of office involving $37 million arising from his time in office as transport minister, but was not prosecuted. In July last year, the former tourism minister, Prisca Mupfumira, was arrested for allegedly looting more than $90 million in social security money when she was the public service minister. She is out on bail.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is supposed to be fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The country had recorded 567 cases and six deaths as of 28 June, but it has no capacity to fight the spread of the virus. Public health institutions are poorly equipped, while strikes among nurses and doctors over poor salaries and working conditions are also common. In April, doctors took the government to court to compel it to provide personal protective equipment and to adequately equip hospitals.
The country is still in lockdown, but Mnangagwa and his wife continue to travel and to meet people, betraying the lack of understanding of the pandemic at the very top.
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