The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe on Tuesday (January 19) deposed a court challenge against Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as Health minister, and the Information ministry, seeking better data relating to Covid-19.
MISA promotes media freedom and supports journalists in need of legal assistance.
The media body is accusing Chiwenga of failing to disseminate adequate information on Covid-19, including details relating to the new variant suspected to have spread from South Africa.
Zimbabwe is now considered a Covid-19 hotspot after the caseload surged by more than 15,000 in less than a month and deaths—including those of two cabinet ministers—also spiked steeply.
Provincial Affairs minister for Manicaland, Ellen Gwaradzimba, and her counterpart in Foreign Affairs, Sibusiso Moyo, passed on recently due to Covid-19 related conditions.
With three cabinet ministers having succumbed to the virus—including ex-Agriculture minister, Perrance Shiri last year—Zimbabwe is probably leading in the number of cabinet authorities in Africa who have died due to Covid-related ailments.
Information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, is cited as the second respondent in the application deposed at the High Court that Grazers News has in its possession.
Harare based lawyer, Rudo Magundani, is leading the MISA legal team.
The media body is seeking a court ruling compelling Chiwenga and Mutsvangwa to widely disseminate to the public, comprehensive information regarding public and private testing, isolation and treatment of COVID 19 patients.
“The Respondents must communicate Covid-19 statistics in relation to immigration and cross border travel. Such reports should include the number of returning residents received and their Covid-19 status,” reads part of the court application.
Lately there have been reports that returning citizens who bribe border control agents at the country’s points of entry like Beitbridge are not being documented and use fake Covid-19 certificates to pass through.
This is considered to be contributing to the spread of the virus since government seems to have abandoned its policy of quarantining immigrants.
MISA says “the failure by the Respondents to supply to the public comprehensive and adequate information regarding the availability and sufficiency of resources including equipment and medical personnel in the fight against COVID-19” is in violation of Zimbabweans’ right to freedom of information.
The Health ministry currently posts Covid-19 statistics of new infections, deaths and recoveries for each of the country’s 10 provinces on a daily basis.
However, MISA insists that the information is inadequate as it does not relate to the new coronavirus variant which is believed to spread and kill faster than the one that was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
“Put bluntly, the information the 1st Respondent is providing is now woefully facile and inappropriate considering that the dynamics of the second wave of Covid-19 infections are far more contagious and lethal,” said MISA.
The current media daily updates by the ministry of Health were adopted after MISA approached the courts in April 2020 demanding such a practice.
MISA director, Tabani Mpofu, signed the founding affidavit, which is a summary of facts of the case made by a person approaching the courts for redress.
Chiwenga and Mutsvangwa are yet to respond to the application.