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In Zimbabwe Under Lockdown, 'Find That Resolve To Carry On No Matter What'

Zimbabwe riot police patrol the streets near a fruit and vegetable market in Harare on Thursday.
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Zimbabwe riot police patrol the streets near a fruit and vegetable market in Harare on Thursday.

Njube Mpofu normally runs a beer garden in Zimbabwe's capital city Harare. Zimbabwe is not an easy place to run a business. Water and electricity are rationed and the dollars are hard to come by.

Almost two weeks ago, and with just eight reported cases at the time, Zimbabwe announced a three-week nationwide lockdown to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Mpofu had to close his beer garden and, he says, the situation in the country has gotten worse.

"To tell you the truth, I really don't understand how we are doing it, but somehow we seem to be surviving," he said.

With food supplies in Zimbabwe limited, he says, he had to cross the border to Botswana to stock up. Since the lockdown, his house has not received water or electricity. Luckily, he has a borehole and neighbors are lining up at his house for water. All of it hurts, Mpofu says, but the lockdown is the right thing to do.

"For us, this is a brilliant idea, because the moment it starts spreading, you won't be able to stop it," he said.

So far, Zimbabwe has reported 11 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths.

Mpofu has stayed home, but many others have filled the streets of Harare. Peter Banda, 62, told the Guardian he was defying the lockdown because he no longer had food in his kitchen.

"I came to town to find food. I cannot just sit at home and watch my grandchildren starve," he said.

Zimbabwe has for years been watching its economy and politics collapse. Inflation is running in the triple digits. People don't have money to buy basic food; hospitals go without acetaminophen. The capital city has few chemicals to treat water to make it safe.

Security forces have used violence to enforce the lockdown, and this week, the World Food Program estimated that more than 4 million Zimbabweans were "acutely food insecure." That's half a million more than at the end of last year.

"I think this is one of those moments that we have to dig in deep in the human spirit and find that resolve to carry on no matter what," Pastor Evan Mawarire tells NPR by phone from his home in Harare.

Mawarire led some of the biggest protests against Zimbabwe's former dictator Robert Mugabe. He has lost family members to the AIDS epidemic; he's survived cholera and typhoid outbreaks. He lived through two major economic collapses and he survived time in jail.

He says through that suffering, Zimbabweans have learned what to do during crises and they can teach the world a little about how to survive.

"I would say to the rest of the world that there is one thing that we have left when we are in trouble," he says, "and that is the hope that we will see tomorrow."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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