The situation in Zimbabwe is often complicated and people rarely find life easy. Water shortages have been a constant problem over recent years because of the lack of rain, which has clearly been exacerbated by climate changes, making the rainy season warmer and drier. So, it is hard to hear that the coronavirus is also affecting the life and well being of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. It is hard enough for us here in the UK to adjust to the new way of living and in Zimbabwe, where life is much more challenging anyway, it must be very difficult indeed.
Bishop Godfrey from the Diocese of Masvingo, which is linked with Southwark Cathedral, wrote on 18 March and here is what he said:
‘Because of the coronavirus, yesterday 17 March, the government of Zimbabwe banned all public gatherings of more than 100 people for the next 60 days. This ban includes all religious gatherings. The ban which is already in effect has affected the operations of the Diocese. The Mothers’ Union celebrations which were scheduled to take place 20 – 22 March (The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary) has been postponed. Other activities in the Diocese have also been affected.
There is however lack of awareness about the coronavirus. The public feels that the government should give more information about it. There are 2 quarantine centres in Harare containing very few beds. Our health delivery system has collapsed. Hospitals have no equipment or essential drugs. People have expressed concern at the preparedness of the government to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, people are beginning to panic and are fearful of what will happen if there is an outbreak in the country.
Three Chinese nationals who entered the country on 1 March are under quarantine in Buhera. This was confirmed by Buhera District Medical Officer. Buhera District is within the Diocese of Masvingo. There are other reports of individuals who are under quarantine in other parts of the country. We have not yet had confirmed cases of coronavirus. Zimbabwe has not closed its borders to visitors from countries where the presence of coronavirus has been reported. However, screening is being done at Harare International Airport and Victoria Falls Airport.
Despite the coronavirus challenges, the Diocese of Masvingo continues to preach the Gospel with Clergy adopting new methods of doing their ministerial duties without exposing themselves or the faithful to coronavirus. This of course is not easy but even in these difficult times the Church needs to remain relevant. We have stopped using the chalice for communicants. The faithful have been discouraged from shaking hands during peace. Health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus have been taken seriously in our ecclesiastical divisions throughout the Diocese.
The coronavirus is coming at a time when life is very difficult in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe annual inflation as measured by Consumer Price Index soared to 540% in February. The latest inflation figures are stoking fears of what we experienced as a country 10 years ago when we had hyperinflation leading to the collapse of our economy. Prices of basic commodities and services have skyrocketed. Shortages of diesel and petrol continue to persist in the country. There are, however, some petrol stations that sell in US dollars only. We are currently experiencing a hyperinflationary environment in the country.’
Since Bishop Godfrey wrote to us, on Sunday March 29, the Bench of Bishops in Zimbabwe has suspended Eucharistic services and worship.
In Central Zimbabwe we hear that they have taken the difficult decision to close their church buildings. Bishop Ignatios explains: ‘We have to manage our congregations from their homes. Communication is not easy in Zimbabwe; we have power cuts for long hours. We are not sure as to how widespread the virus is in Zimbabwe, the government is not clear as to how great the challenge is, it is all speculation. We have advised our parishioners and our suppliers not to visit the office physically. We are encouraging people to stay home. I know that it is not easy for the people in Zimbabwe to stay home since most of them are informal traders. The challenges of clean water are making the problem bigger. Our streets are full of people and no testing is done to confirm cases of coronavirus.’ He goes on to say that he worries about how safe the priests are in their parishes.
There is much to be done in the Diocese of Masvingo and Manicaland even without the effects of coronavirus. In the Diocese of Manicaland they are still dealing with the after-effects of Cyclone Idai, there are still many displaced people and the threat of the spread of coronavirus can only make things worse. In Masvingo we are asked to support the work in their schools. Most importantly they want to be able to repair boreholes or drill new ones to make sure that there is enough water to continue to offer feeding programmes for the schools. In so doing they will also be able to offer food to the villages around the schools.
The schools also need more equipment particularly desks and chairs so that the children can have the best possible education. Education remains hugely important even in these difficult times as young people still need to prepare for the future. If the schools in Zimbabwe close they will not be able to work remotely, as we can here, because there is often no electricity and internet access is always unreliable and often non-existent in the rural areas. More than that if schools close then there is a real danger that children will have even less to eat as so many depend on school feeding programmes. It is so important that, even at this uncertain time for us, we continue to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and for the work of the Church there and wherever possible to donate to the Lent Call as a way of giving thanks to God and showing practical support for those in need in our link Dioceses in Zimbabwe.
Moffat Musasa, the Diocesan Treasurer in the Diocese of Matabeleland, has written on behalf of Bishop Cleophas. He says, that ‘Covid-19 has caused a lot of despair and pain across the globe. Our country has not been spared of this affliction.’ He notes that the closure of churches will have a negative effect on the ability of the churches to collect funds which in turn are passed on to help run the Diocese. Mission schools are also closed and the levies collected from the Mission schools have helped to keep the Diocese afloat. He says, ‘Most of our people in the Diocese are not yet conversant with the digital payment platform. Most of the parish funds are collected on the offering plate on a Sunday when people meet for worship. The Diocese will find it extremely hard to function during the lockdown and the period soon after it. Stipends for the clergy, office running costs and support for the vulnerable will certainly be difficult to fund.’
Sadly, because of the global outbreak of the coronavirus a visit planned by a group of clergy from the Diocese of Matabeleland has had to be postponed.
Many of the things happening in the Dioceses in Zimbabwe are being mirrored here but the people of Zimbabwe have been suffering for a very long time and so we hope that you will still consider giving generously to the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call so that our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe know that we are supporting them not only in prayer but in practical ways. Thank you.