Rich and poor mourn alike … while DRC lawyers sue US for COVID-19

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David Muchagoneyi

Harare – From young to old, rich to poor and prominent to ordinary, the COVID-19 pandemic has left a trail of despair across Southern Africa’s social strata.

Zimbabwe woke up to the news of the death of its Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri on July 29.

While awaiting post-mortem results, some family members have said they suspect the former Air Force of Zimbabwe supremo succumbed to either the new coronavirus or food poisoning.

About a week earlier, South Africans were mourning the passing of Zindzi Mandela. And around that same time, the people of Zambia were shedding tears as it emerged that two members of parliament had succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

With hundreds of thousands already dead, and millions more infected, all classes of society are bound to be affected.

The reality of how COVID-19 – and indeed death - cuts across social status, intellect or achievements has brought into focus how the world has to unite to confront its biggest threat since the Spanish Flu or AIDS.

Minister Perrance Shiri is the most prominent Zimbabwean to succumb to the virus since broadcaster Zororo Makamba died in the early days of the pandemic.

Minister Shiri was a celebrated liberation war hero who entered government as a retired Air Chief Marshall and was roundly celebrated for the hours he put into transforming Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector in his post-military incarnation.

Across the Limpopo in South Africa, the death of Zindzi Mandela – daughter of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela – stunned the nation and has been the marker of the arrival of the “peak” COVID-19 pandemic to Africa’s most affected country.

Besides Zindzi Mandela, the death of Benedict Vilakazi, whose grandfather was the first black lecturer at the University of Witswatersrand and the man who Soweto's famous Vilakazi Street is named after, also fell victim to the virus.

And not to forget Professor Gita Ramjee, well known for her research on HIV and AIDS.

SADC’s largest country, the DRC, has also felt COVID-19’s indiscriminate sting through the death of Mukendi wa Mulumba, who was legal advisor to President Felix Tshisekedi.

The demise of the King of Soukos, Aurlus Mabélé (real name Aurélien Miatsonama), in a Paris hospital in May also shocked the nation, the region, and the world.

Meanwhile, a group of lawyers in the DRC has sued the United States government for allegedly concealing the origins of the new coronavirus.

The National Bar Association Law office filed a petition with the Congolese Attorney-General’s Office blaming US President Donald Trump and his government for the spread of COVID-19 in the DRC.

The lawyers specifically blame the US for not informing the rest of the world about the looming pandemic which they say has caused “the decimation of the Congolese population of which 13,400 people are affected and 190 have already died in flagrant violation of Article 7 of the Statutes of Rome and of the International Criminal Court”.

The petitioners say the new coronavirus was first reported in the US in September 2019 and Washington did nothing to contain its spread to the rest of the world.

"Since September 2019, the report on the surveillance of the COVID-19 influenza in the United States by its director responsible for the centre for the prevention and control of epidemiological diseases Mr Robert Redfield, published in the official websites that several Americans were already infected by the virus as at September 2019,” the suit says.

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