When the COVID-19 virus first started spreading in the northern hemisphere, some Zimbabwean officials gloated that it was punishment for Western governments’ sanctions against the Southern African nation. When a well-known and highly connected television personality, Zororo Makamba, died from COVID-19 in a hospital room with no electrical outlets, running water, or intensive care treatments available, ordinary Zimbabweans and ZANU-PF party members got spooked.
In response, oil importer Sakunda Holdings has been mobilized to set up new health facilities specifically to treat COVID-19 patients. The problem: Sakunda is owned by Kudakwashe Tagwirei, who has close political ties with party members of the ruling ZANU-PF, and was formerly under investigation for corruption and state capture. Sakunda is reopening a private hospital, the Rock Foundation Medical Center, and taking ownership of St. Anne’s Hospital in the capital Harare. Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health assured citizens that the hospitals will be available for public use, but more concerning is that only patients who can pay in US dollars will be admitted to either hospital.
Why It Matters
Following the military coup against former president Robert Mugabe, there were hopes that Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party had turned over a new leaf. State capture, cult of personality, and gross appropriation of revolutionary rhetoric against the West to distract from obvious government corruption were hallmarks of Mugabe’s decades-long rule. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has seemingly continued this trend, with Kudakwashe Tagwirei functioning as a middleman for state capture and corruption. The COVID-19 pandemic, and Zimbabwe’s official response to it, may give Tagwirei’s Sakunda group the new life it needed after selling off its majority stake in fuel transport company Trafigura. Protestors have demanded investigations into Tagwirei and Sakunda, but their demands are unlikely to be met while Sakunda owns the hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients.