By Sifelani Tsiko
It’s not often that you see a president of a country going to an epicentre of a crisis, particularly in a poor neighbourhood.
Normally they’re in a smart suit or formal attire for whatever high-profile meeting they’re about to attend or opening some high-profile conference or seminar.
Even when people are faced with such crisis as floods, earthquakes, accidents, droughts and other disasters, some leaders would remain stiff as boards in their suits and ties – a world apart from the suffering and poor.
Love him or loathe him, President Mnangagwa won everyone’s heart after he made a bold decision to show heart in a moment of crisis when he visited Glen View, the epicentre of the cholera outbreak in Harare.
President Mnangagwa offered his support and comforting words to victims of cholera as he surveyed the problems in Glen View that led to the outbreak.
With residents still recovering from the deadly cholera outbreak that has killed 32 people and affected more than 3 000 during the past three weeks, the President sought to strike a balance between comforter and his busy work schedule, in the process demonstrating sufficient empathy in the face of tragedy.
During his visit, he greeted people and discussed the response efforts with local government and State officials.
In addition, he called on the corporate world to donate towards fighting the pandemic.
“We are raising money, which has been coming in daily, so that we fix the burst pipes at Morton Jaffray Waterworks and the Central Business District, as well as the suburbs. We have been told that most of these pipes are old and are bursting at any given time, so we have found some well-wishers who are helping us,” President Mnangagwa was quoted as saying.
“We will continue to support the Harare City Council in its programmes meant to sanitise Harare, because the council does not have enough powers to be doing all the work alone.”
In many ways, his visit tells us that he grieves with the people and that his heart breaks for the people who lost their loved ones.
His emotional words and offering of hope stand in sharp contrast to other leaders who wouldn’t care or try to play party politics.
We all have seen how other world leaders have drawn criticism for not caring about people who affected by disasters.
Some even choose not to even meet the victims.
The President’s latest gesture helps him to connect with the people. It helps him to understand the nature of the problems that people face in their everyday lives.
More importantly, it builds his understanding of the complexities of poor service delivery and also the misinformation that is often churned out by “bootlickers” who often don’t want the President to “see no evil, hear no evil”.
His tour of the epicentre of cholera gives him first-hand information which he can use as ammunition to interrogate responsible officials.
Reaching out to the people is the way to go Mr President, no matter the ridicule or criticism you may be subjected to.
It makes you to become a listening leader and a servant leader as you humbly pledged when you assumed office.
The President’s enduring image of the trip will help him dwarf the exaggerated and unfair criticism from his opponents.
It won’t be easy for his opponents and detractors to label him insensitive and disconnected from the masses.
It will not only earn him much praise, but show that he is a leader of action and efficiency.
His visit to a poor neighbourhood has the potential to spur action to end the perennial water and sanitation problems that face most urban residential areas in the country.
It will also boost the mobilisation of critical resources towards the cholera fight and set a precedent for all other major relief operations that may come in future.
And, when the post-crisis analysis is done, President Mnangagwa will find it fulfilling that at least he connected with the victims and shared their frustrations.
He will know that a president can rarely escape blame even if he is not responsible. People want a listening president and a servant leader whom they can easily share their problems with. Getting direct to the people will give the President first-hand information about the nature of the crisis.
This will no doubt help him to make informed decision based on reality and not misinformation from a bunch of bureacracts.