8 Leaders Meet Over COVID-19

President Mnangagwa yesterday participated in a video consultative conference called by South Africa and bringing together seven of its neighbours to discuss collaboration in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic and exploring ways to prepare for the aftermath of the outbreak.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country has been the epicentre of the regional pandemic, convened the meeting which lasted more than three hours as all leaders gave their views.

Yesterday’s meeting was part of President Ramaphosa’s ongoing consultative meeting as African Union (AU) chairperson as he wanted to hear views from his neighbours considering the effect the pandemic had on countries surrounding South Africa.

Some of the issues that came out were how to collaborate procurement of equipment, sharing of information on any developments a member country would be taking, and synchronisation of immigration policies so as to enhance regional integration and minimise risks, among other issues.

Besides South Africa and Zimbabwe, other leaders in the virtual meeting were: President Joao Lourenco of Angola, President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, Prime Minister Thomas Thabani of Lesotho, Prime Minister Mandulo Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, and President Hage Geingob of Namibia.

All eight leaders spoke of the measures they were undertaking in their countries to contain the pandemic and challenges they were facing.

Some of the measures include declaring the pandemic a state of national disaster, introducing lockdowns, social distancing and making wearing of masks a legal obligation. Common challenges were that of procurement of protective protection equipment.

In his overview on the way forward, President Mnangagwa said there was need to collaborate as a region in procuring PPEs given the challenges that have been experienced. He said there was also need to explore ways to produce them locally just as what was happening in Zimbabwe, where some institutions of higher learning were producing masks and now on the verge of coming up with ventilators.

“In the interaction there was mention of pooling of our procurement. I think we need further conversation around that concept and see how we can assist each other in the area of procurement of needs in mitigating the fight of Covid-19 pandemic,” said President Mnangagwa.

He said there was need to emphasise on preventative measures through limiting contacts and one of it was to look at sporting activities.

“More importantly, we need to look at the issues like sports. In Zimbabwe we have stopped sporting activities. Of course you can do your exercise at home but as concerns the general sporting activities we need to have it looked at and examined because it is very difficult even if you have masks. One cannot play football with masks, they will fall off,” said President Mnangagwa.

He called for enhanced testing so that countries could have a proper picture on their response to the pandemic.

President Mnangagwa also commented on the particular problems Zimbabwe faced because of sanctions.

“Zimbabwe is extremely grateful to sadc and AU for being unequivocal and steadfast in their call for the unconditional removal of the illegal sanctions on my country as well as Sudan. As you are aware United Nations Secretary general Mr António Guterres and United Nations Human Rights Commission have condemned these restrictive measures, which continue to severely undermine Zimbabwe’s economic development and destabilise an economy already besieged by the aftermath of Cyclone idai and wide spread drought-induced food insecurity.

“My Government continues to call for the total end and unconditional removal of all the illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe. The continued imposition of sanctions merely exacerbates the existing hardships and further endures the livelihoods of the poorest and the most vulnerable in our country. Beyond that the sanctions severely undermine my country’s ability to more effective response to the Covid-19.

President Mnangagwa commended President Ramaphosa, saying the convening of virtual meetings was cheaper than travelling to hold meetings.

“We now realise that in the past we used to fly in the capitals and spent some nights and a lot of money, but this is cheaper. We are meeting Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and so on. In fact, we can meet the entire Sadc, even the continent while sitting at home as we are doing now. For poor countries like mine, this is cheaper,” said President Mnangagwa.

President Ramaphosa said he had been meeting several institutions and organisations in the African continent and beyond in his capacity as AU chairperson.

“I was able to meet the Sadc chair, His Excellency, President (John) Magafuli (of Tanzania). The problem he raised was a logistical one where it might be difficult to have a discussion and he suggested that views can be written down. I still felt that it was necessary, however, particularly for the immediate neighbours, that as South Africa we carry the biggest burden on the continent and that we have got contagious neighbours with whom we need to share some thoughts. In our region SA, is the epicentre of the pandemic,” said President Ramaphosa.

Added President Ramaphosa: “One of the biggest challenges the continent face is access to PPE. I felt that there is need to drive that strongly and therefore appointed Zimbabwe businessperson Strive Masiyiwa to assist with efforts to source PPE for the region and the continent and he had already started this, working with a number of leaders in the continent. I felt that we should harness his energy and capability to do this for us.”

President Ramaphosa reiterated calls for the removal of illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and Sudan by the West saying the embargo undermined the ability by the two countries to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

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