HARARE – Zimbabwe on Wednesday buried three top officials, including two cabinet ministers, in a single ceremony at a shrine reserved almost exclusively for the ruling elite as a virulent wave of the coronavirus takes a devastating toll on the country.
“COVID-19 has taught us an important lesson that we are all mortal,” said Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, presiding at what he described as a “unique triple burial” at the hilltop, picturesque shrine called National Heroes Acre.
“It does not discriminate between the powerful and the weak, the privileged and the deprived, the haves and the have-nots. It is a ruthless juggernaut that leaves a trail of despair and desperation,” he said.
Pallbearers in full COVID-19 protective gear wheeled the coffins of the two Cabinet ministers and a former head of Zimbabwe's prisons on a red carpet for burial with military honors.
A few mourners, keeping a distance from each other and wearing face masks, attended the burial in line with regulations that limit the number of people at funerals.
One of the ministers buried, Sibusiso Moyo, was the country’s foreign affairs minister, but was best known as the military general who announced the coup against then-president Robert Mugabe on television in 2017. The coup ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule and he later died in Sept. 2019.
Zimbabwe has now lost four cabinet ministers to COVID-19. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country while presiding last week at the burial of one of the ministers who died from COVID-19 at the same shrine. Mnangagwa did not attend the triple burial Wednesday as he is taking annual leave.
Several other prominent political and business leaders have died from the virus in recent weeks, leaving the country scratching for answers. It appears that many of Zimbabwe's elite did not take adequate precautions during the holiday season.
A government spokesman, Nick Mangwana, was this week forced to apologize after appearing to suggest some of the high profile people were being “eliminated” in hospitals by doctors he called “medical assassins” and “political activists hiding behind medical qualifications.”
Zimbabwe, like many other African countries, initially recorded low numbers of COVID-19 but has recently experienced a spike in cases. There are fears that a new, more infectious variant of the virus came to the country when scores of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa returned home for the holiday season.
The country of 15 million recorded a total of 32,004 cases, including 1,103 deaths, on Jan.26, up from the slightly more than 10,000 cases and 277 deaths at the beginning of December, according to government figures.
Zimbabwe has not yet received any vaccines. Mnangagwa has said the government health officials are still deciding which vaccine to acquire.
Portia Manangazira, director of epidemiology and disease control in the ministry of health, told a parliamentary committee this week that Russia and China “might offer a small donation.”
The government has also said it expects to get some vaccines through the international COVAX initiative, but it does not have a firm date on when they will be delivered.