In many East and Southern African countries, local, regional and national lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been extended, reported Equinet. “Their impacts raise questions on their sustainability. The conversation inevitably turns to when and how countries will exit them. South Africa’s President Ramaphosa said recently in introducing their risk adjusted strategy: ‘We cannot sustain a nationwide lockdown indefinitely. Our people need to eat, and earn a living. Companies need to trade.’”

Formally recognized in 1999 at the South African Development Community Health Ministers meeting, Equinet is a regional network dealing with health-related issues, of Eastern and Southern African countries, said Rangarirai Machemedze. Machemedze coordinates the Trade and Health Program at the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute which is an organization in the Regional Network for Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa (Equinet).

During a phone interview, from his office in Zimbabwe, Machemedz, who has authored and co-authored many papers, policy briefs and articles on different issues on trade and health-related themes, told Africa Watch, that they’ve been compiling information, and looking at that info from “different angles” on how the pandemic is effecting Eastern and Southern Africa.

“Particularly with regards to employment issues, livelihood issues, and perhaps looking into the future, how this Covid-19 pandemic is going to shape the economic (and) social activity of people,” he said.


Machemedz who holds graduate degrees in globalization and governance from the University of Hull (UK), a post-graduate qualification in advanced development economics and policymaking from the Norwegian-based institute, a degree in public relations, and a graduate degree in mass communications said part of Southern Africa’s concern is having “undergone a systematic process of deindustrialization, starting from the period of structural adjustment programs in the 1980s, which moved into the 1990s and as a result of that a number of industries within the region have closed.”

He said this is also what happened in East Africa. “This has planted the people into a vicious cycle of poverty. Most people lost their jobs and they went into the informal sector.”

A 2017 study, “Zimbabwe is Currently Experiencing a De-Industrialization Trend. Discussing the Causes of De-Industrialization in Zimbabwe and Offering Suggestion on How the Country Can Reverse the Trend,” by Anthony Tapiwa, Mazikana, highlights the deindustrialization trend in Zimbabwe. This trend can also, in many instances, be found in other Southern and East African countries.

“Many developing countries like Zimbabwe are experiencing premature deindustrialization… The conventional explanation for employment deindustrialization is based on differential rates of technological progress. According to the report by the United Nations, Zimbabwe has suffered large-scale deindustrialization since 1995 that has condemned the bulk of the population a grinding subsistence life as communal and resettlement farmers,” the report states.

“Since 1995 Zimbabwe has experienced a process of deindustrialization with the large majority of the people becoming largely dependent on communal and resettlement agriculture, a sector where there is high poverty prevalence,” the report continued in part.

Cut short during this coronavirus pandemic migrants have been seeking employment across Africa’s porous borders.

The history of Africa’s migrations defined by colonial masters, borders for work, education, social-cultural interactions and other reasons over the centuries is a matter of record. According to the latest Equinet Covid-19 brief: “Migration has been one way in which households have secured employment and incomes, and migrant labor has been a key, if sometimes buried feature of the economies in the (East and Southern African) region. For example, South Africa as a regional migration hub has an estimated 4.2 million migrants, primarily from neighboring countries.

It continues, “It is estimated by IOM (International Organization for Migration) that over 11 million Mozambicans are living abroad, with South Africa one of the top destinations, working in mining and farming jobs, with about 24,000 Mozambicans working in the mining sector. In Mpumalanga province alone, 2004 estimates indicated some 80,000 Mozambicans working in farms there.”

Machemedz said since Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence, which he also attributes to many other African countries, “We did not really think of making massive investments in the economic and social infrastructure for our people to really enjoy the political independence that they wished for and they got.”

This could be a reference to the land expropriation, which translated into economic exploitation by their White colonial masters that Zimbabwe and South Africa have similarly experienced. This also includes most Southern African countries, including Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.

“The countries of southern Africa share similar histories of colonization and dispossession, histories that continue to shape current patterns of land tenure and administration. Most of the countries in the region have been through a phase of liberalization and market reforms, or market-related land, redistribution programs, and since the 1990s new land laws have been passed in several countries, which tend to have been relatively weakly implemented and enforced,” noted the “Review of Land Reforms in Southern Africa.”

“Covid-19 pandemic has actually given us another chance to reflect as to what we really need as an (African) people. And I think that we have been driven to the conclusion that it is always better to invest in the common good of the people rather than to privatize knowledge, privatize issues (and) becoming rugged individualist; it doesn’t work,” Machemedz said.

Leaving urban centers and returning to rural areas may be a blessing in disguise, he added.

“There is a need for a holistic approach to… development strategies,” explained Machededz. “We should apply a bottom up community approach.” He firmly believes, the way toward development is “utilizing local resources and the local knowledge we have in order for people to realize they’re developmental potentials.”

Machededz referenced the press reports that mentioned a ground swell of persons living in urban centers returning to their ancestral or rural homes.

Responding to the question of why people were returning to their rural homes, Machededz responded, “I think this is an automatic response.” People being challenged by the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that there was no way they could safely socially distance themselves, and stay locked down, they decided to move back home,” he explained.

The big lesson in the return is “don’t forget your roots, don’t forget where you came from and where you came from that’s actually where you need to invest,” he said.

He believes this is where subsistence farming is sacred. What’s needed is assisting those returning to rural communities develop their “agricultural activity.”

“We have to invest in those areas (which also includes) … keeping chickens, raising cattle.”

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