With Zimbabwe’s public health system just beginning to recover from a prolonged doctors’ strike before COVID-19 hit, Amujae Leader Adv. Fadzayi Mahere knew action would be needed to support her community during the pandemic.
“We began by establishing the ‘Zimbabwe Against COVID-19 Trust.’ It’s a platform that provides the opportunity to strengthen our national response to the virus and gather direct donations of money and equipment, galvanizing community support. When you’ve been in crisis for over a decade, complaining gets old. It becomes time to step up and be the change you want to see.”
Zimbabwe implemented a strict three-week lockdown period early in the crisis. It was during this time that Fadzayi took to social media channels like Twitter to engage with people across the country who were stuck inside. In a lighthearted twist, a doctor began tweeting to Fadzayi and asked her to join him on a date. Seeing the opportunity to spread awareness and raise funds for COVID-19 relief, Fadzayi agreed to accept the date if he was able to secure enough retweets. The campaign took off, and in-kind donations and funding came streaming in for the Zimbabwe Against COVID-19 Trust:
“#TeamLenon really tapped into the Zimbabwean consciousness. It showed the best of our country and gave people a break from the monotony of the lockdown, helping to lift their spirits.”
As a member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, Fadzayi has also had a political role during the pandemic. She has been appointed the party’s main spokesperson and has been leading its efforts to dispel myths and conspiracy theories about the source and spread of the virus in the country. As her party holds a majority in a number of local authorities, she has also been involved in efforts to ensure that each district has a clinic available to quarantine and treat people suffering from the virus.
And as a practicing lawyer, Fadzayi has put her legal skills to use during the pandemic, working to defend civil rights during the lockdown:
“COVID-19 has brought existing crises into much sharper focus—we are suffering from a systemic crisis that needs deep, not cosmetic, change to how our society functions. This should be a clarion call for everyone in the civic space to engage against human rights injustices, corruption, and poverty. The fight will be long, but victory will come if we remain positive.”
She has also worked to ensure that the response to the crisis takes into account the experiences of Zimbabwean women. The effects of the lockdown and market closures have had a disproportionate impact on women – who are overrepresented in the informal sector – and have been acutely felt among their households:
“COVID-19 is having a distinct effect on women in Zimbabwe, from being unable to maintain an income and being unable to access water and sanitary wear, to finding themselves in lockdown conditions with the perpetrators of domestic abuse. And with hospitals and clinics only accepting COVID-19 cases, they are also unable to access any kind of general or reproductive healthcare.”
Much has happened since Fadzayi participated in the inaugural Amujae Leadership Forum in early March, and she has drawn from the experience and insights of her fellow Amujae Leaders as she navigates the crisis:
“I’m paying more attention to what’s happening in other countries where my sisters are working and learning from them as they deal with the effects of the pandemic. A number of them have previously dealt with the effects of the Ebola outbreak, and so I’ve been able to learn from them in a number of ways, such as how to keep education going for children while schools are closed. Africa has a network of amazing women leaders, and there is always a group rooting for me and my fellow Amujae Leaders.”
Learn more about Fadzayi here.
The Amujae Initiative is a program of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. Learn more about the Center here.