By Fred M’membe
Things are changing ceaselessly. As we witness the daily rise in the coronavirus cases recorded in the country, we must begin to acknowledge that the pandemic has and will magnify the structural dilemma our country is faced with.
But we must be reminded, that even though the pandemic may worsen these problems – it did not create or cause them.
The current government of our country has had no strategic plan to combat the pandemic. Their response to the pandemic has been poorly coordinated.
Necessary measures like closing borders, the provision of PPE for our health workers, confining citizens and reaching out to countries that have dealt with the pandemic better such as China and Cuba have not been prioritized.
Instead, the pandemic has not been taken seriously – gyms, casinos, restaurants, golf clubs have been reopened whilst our daily number of recorded cases is on the increase.
But at the center of this, our health workers are doing a tremendous job in the most difficult of circumstances. They are being placed in the front line of this battlefield to provide a service to the community, yet they are not well protected, yet they are not well remunerated and yet they are not even well appreciated. They are risking their own lives and the lives and wellbeing of their own children to save us. We must protect them, remunerate them well and appreciate them.
And we must tackle this pandemic with the seriousness, tenacity it deserves. Our peoples lives are at stake.
It is also clear that the reality that this pandemic will leave our already limping economy in shambles has already dawned on our people – from street vendors to people who run their own small businesses to employees of big companies – they are all already feeling the pinch of it.
And this has been confirmed by projections that the Zambian economy for the first time in over 20 years, will experience negative growth this year, as it will shrink by at least 2.6 per cent.
We are already beginning to see many lose their jobs. This will increase with the prolonged pandemic, but again, we must not believe that this is a result of the pandemic alone. A stronger economic performance, prior to the pandemic, would have minimized job losses and forced pay cuts.
We have time and time again warned this government about the careless contraction of unsustainable debt – but we have not seen things change. Last year, our debt to GDP ratio increased from 35 per cent in 2014 to about 80 per cent in 2019. It was clear prior to the pandemic that servicing this debt will prove difficult for this country. But today, the government will blame the projected defaulting on loan obligations on this pandemic.
We must also remember that the failure to improve the standard of living of our people prior to this pandemic has endangered many lives. With over 60 per cent of our population living below the poverty line, over 350,000 people not having access to regular food supply, and an astonishingly high proportion of our fellow citizens in Kwa and villages not having access to clean running water.
Our people need a leadership that acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic, has revealed to us, that poor leadership and continued reliance on the “each one for himself” way of life propagated cannot bring solutions for our people.
We must face the reality that pandemics will increase in the years to come, due to over population in many parts of the world, reduced animal habitat increasing the spread of animal diseases in humans, the increase in mega cities and the increased global and local movement of people.
We therefore, cannot continue not to prioritize our economic, health, social and environmental preparedness for these occurrences.
And based on the global and local response to this and past pandemics, it is evident that only socialist oriented solutions can be applied. All the countries are, to varying degrees, applying socialist solutions to try and deal with this virus.
We must therefore ask ourselves: why is it that when there is a crisis socialism comes in? Why not have socialism permanently? Why not all the time or permanently guarantee and provide all our people with free quality health care, decent housing and sanitation, free quality education, food and all the basic necessities for one to live a dignified life?
What has been exposed through the response of all the political representatives of capitalism is that workers and the poor cannot defend their conditions, their rights and now their very lives, through these organisations and under capitalism.
The coronavirus pandemic has expanded the spectrum of imaginable futures and political possibilities. And some of those possibilities have been a sight for sore socialists’ eyes. The virus has validated the core socialist tenet that we are all dependent on each other. When one nation lacks the public-health infrastructure necessary to contain an infectious disease, the public health of all nations is undermined. If thousands or millions of Zambians cannot afford to stay home from work or access health care when they are ill, the well-being of all Zambians is jeopardized.
The experience of the past months has presented the real face of capitalism – a system that constitutes the greatest threat to mankind. Workers, the poor, young people and professionals must fight for a socialist perspective, the only means by which we can make progress.
Without a huge scientific advance soon, the reality of us spending five or more years with high death rates and anemic economies is almost certain.
The coronavirus is indeed a likely major hinge point, but it is only an accidental vehicle to reveal more sharply all the internal contradictions of capitalism and the underlying character of its failed democracy.
It fully reveals its ineptitude, blind allegiance to survival of the fittest herd immunity ideology, hatred for the poor and old, gleeful thoughts of having created a new way to achieve permanent daily death and destruction benefits of traditional war that capitalism is so addicted to. The dangers are real. We now have the chance to choose: barbarism or socialism.
This requires the building of a new socialist awareness and leadership among all our people.
The Author is the 2021 Presidential Candidate for the Socialist Party whose primary mandate is to promote and entrench socialist values in the Zambian society. Anchored on the principles of Justice, Equity and Peace (JEP), the Socialist Party shall transform the Zambian society from capitalism to socialism, building socialism in three key sectors: Education, Agriculture, and Health