BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
As yet another variant of the Covid-19 virus sweeps across the country, leaving in its wake frightening statistics of dead people and congested funeral parlours and cemeteries, grim tales remain to be told of how the virus has decimated communities and the painful ways that the mysterious killer eats up its victims.
To capture the severity of the disease and its devastating impact, The Standard went out to meet with individuals and families who have come face-to-face with the virus to share their experiences.
The voices behind the statistics echo the pain, the fear and the grief that millions around the world have had to come to terms with.
When former Harare mayor Ben Manyenyeni posted on his Facebook page exactly a week ago, “Friends we have been struck by Covid 19” there was an outpouring of well-wisher messages.
Some expressed shock and were panicky on his behalf.
Yet he remained calm. After all, he had received both his Sinopharm vaccine shots.
“Before being hit we had been on irregular steaming sessions and used various concoctions, herbal and chemical — nothing too religious in terms of commitment,” said Manyenyeni, who has survived the Covid-19 onslaught and has since been discharged from hospital.
Narrating his experience, Manyenyeni said when his wife Fran first tested positive, every eligible person at the house, including their helper, received clinical treatment.
Initially both Manyenyeni and the helper tested negative, but when his wife’s condition did not improve they were summoned back to the clinic.
They then tested positive this time around.
“My wife was then admitted to Arundel Hospital immediately and we were admitted the following day as our condition also worsened,” Manyenyeni said.
“The facilities at Arundel are world-class so we declined an offer to be airlifted to Nairobi for treatment.”
He said he had the least symptoms because he had been fully vaccinated.
“The vaccine story spoke loudly. I was 10 weeks after my second Sinopharm dose and I suffered the least symptoms,” the former mayor said.
“My wife was about a fortnight after her first AstraZeneca jab and apparently she benefited somewhat.”
But their helper had not been vaccinated at all, having declined the offer. He is still unwell.
Speaking from his home where he is still recuperating, the former mayor bemoaned the general decay in public facilities, saying there was need to revive the health delivery system in the country.
“We need someone powerful with a pen and calculator directing where public money must go,” he said.
“If priorities are put right, we can revive our healthcare within two years.”
Manyenyeni said money was indeed available to procure treatment regiments for everyone that needed treatment for Covid-19 in the country.
“The standard package is less than $10 — Zimbabwe can afford home treatment for each and every case in the crisis without hospitalisation,” he said.
Commenting on the widespread ignorance about the disease, the complacency and denial, Manyenyeni said the reality was that everyone was going to get Covid-19 at some point.
“It is now a matter of when, not if, you will get the virus.
“Every household must have a home treatment kit — for at least the first in-house infections,” he said.
Manyenyeni said disclosing one’s status was the best way of beating the stigma associated with the disease.
“The disease is not self-inflicted,” he said.
“It is irresponsible to hide being hit. The louder some of the high-profile people get about it when infected, the better.
“Being open about my family having fallen victim to the disease was a good thing,” he added.
“I know I have saved lives; I have removed the stigma, I have motivated vaccinations and I feel so encouraged with that loud little effort.
“There is a family out there whose father or mother I have saved — it is such a rewarding feeling.”
He said his own family did not want him to come out about it, but he was determined to speak out.
“Being a victim was only God’s directive of me being an ambassador against the disease,” he said.
For award-winning photo journalist Lovejoy Mutongwizo the positive Covid result came as a shocker.
The 28-year-old was scheduled for a flight to South Africa on July 2 and when he casually walked into the doctor’s rooms to collect his results he did not suspect anything since he was feeling fine.
“I was shocked and dumfounded.
“I just sat there in great disbelief. I had really assumed getting tested was just a formality,” Mutongwizo said.
The doctor sat him down and explained his results, telling him he had already been over the worst. He was advised to go into isolation to limit spreading the disease.
“As it all started sinking in, I notified those I had been in contact with and realised it was a lot of people,” Mutongwizo said.
A couple of days before, he had been having mild headaches and nose bleeds.
“I did not have serious symptoms and only remember that one evening while on my way home I started feeling feverish and because it was not severe, I dismissed it,” he said.
“So it was only the headaches and nosebleeds.”
After the positive result, Mtongwizo self-isolated.
“I was taking Vitamin C, Flumel tablets as well as ginger, garlic and zumbani concoctions,” he said.
“I also used eucalyptus oil for steaming and it helped a lot,” he said.
Although his isolation was largely without incident, there was a brief moment when he got sick.
“It was just one night when my condition deteriorated,” Mutongwizo added.
“I woke up coughing profusely and I just steamed and took my medicine regimen.”
He was better the next morning. He has since tested negative and is out of isolation.
“If it was not for the fact that I had been vaccinated, I could have been terribly sick,” the journalist said.
“The vaccine protected and shielded me. I got my jab in February, two days after the rollout.”
Mtongwizo said if it had not been for the trip which required a Covid-19 test, he most probably would not have known he was infected.
“Do the right thing please and get vaccinated. That is my advice. The vaccine fought for me,” he said.
“To my fellow media colleagues, I say we are on the frontline because we interact with a lot of people.
“Please get tested and just be sure you get vaccinated.”
Mtongwizo, however, said being vaccinated did not mean that one would not get infected.
“Observe all the regulations,” he said. “We know many people use public transport, but just continue to mask up and sanitise regularly.”
Across the border in South Africa, Zimbabwean Mufaro Muzvondiwa has also battled Covid-19.
An executive in the engineering field, Muzvondiwa told a very dark tale of how he barely made it when Covid-19 visited his family.
“I have been wary of Covid-19 from the onset, I am in my late 40s and not as fit as I should be owing to some chronic health challenges,” Muzvondiwa said.
“I woke up on a Thursday feeling like I had a bit of a cold or flu.
“I immediately alerted my team and did not go into the office.”
By Friday his condition had not changed much.
“So I assumed I was good to the extent that by Saturday I even went to a session at the gym,” Muzondiwa said.
“In a move that I regretted very much later, I went to console a relative, who had just lost their father.
“I realised later that I could have placed a lot of people at risk.”
By mid-morning Monday, Muzondiwa was on a full regime of Covid-19 treatment: steroids, antibiotics, blood thinners, pain killers and cough medicine.
“All I know was that I was very sick,” he said. “I went to the lab for tests to confirm what we already knew.”
When he got the positive results he started contact tracing.
“I religiously sent WhatsApp messages telling friends and acquaintances that I had been the idiot, who had endangered their lives,” he said.
His condition worsened and he got to a point where he was hallucinating.
“My faith in medicine was starting to wane,” he said.
“I am not one for grandma’s remedies, but for the first time I tried all manner of teas, I even tried kunatira (steaming).
“My white friends delivered the cow medicine Ivermectin.”
Muzvondiwa had been sick for nine days and was getting worse and his oxygen concentration levels were becoming a problem.
He finally got an oxygen concentrator from a friend and his condition improved.
“I learned a few things about myself; that I was not afraid of death; I could accept it, but I also realised how unprepared I was for it.
“My affairs were not in order.”
His advice: “The best way to deal with this disease is not to catch it.”