Building Resilience in Zimbabwe
An interview with Dr. Rosemary Chigevenga on Zimbabwe's COVID-19 response.
Posted Aug 03, 2020
All across the world, responses to COVID-19 have varied. Here are some insights from Dr. Rosemary Chigevenga on the coronavirus situation in Zimbabwe.
Rosemary Chigevenga is a psychology lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University under the Julius Nyerere School of Social Sciences. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Africa. Rosemary holds a Master of Science Degree in Community Psychology and an Honours Degree in Psychology. Her areas of specialisation are community psychology and developmental psychology. She has been involved in studies on violence against women and children as well as women empowerment. Rosemary is also in her final stages of internship for registration as a community psychologist.
Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Zimbabwe?
Rosemary Chigevenga: The COVID-19 situation started at a very low scale which could have been strictly controlled to avoid escalation of cases. However, both the government and the citizens relaxed a bit to the extent that, at the writing of this response, the situation is getting worse daily. The situation is a bit complicated though, in the sense that at one end we have a giant of a disaster which we need to protect ourselves from and at the other end we have an ailing economy which needs people to be active so they can survive. Due to this scenario, people end up exposing their lives to the pandemic in search of food. Thus, people end up fearing both death from the pandemic and starvation.
The situation is also bad in the sense that, as Africans, we value collectivism which requires us to be close in a number of circumstances like at funerals, when someone is sick, and other gatherings which however are contrary to the safety measures required in trying to prevent the disease—like maintaining physical distance, quarantine, and self-isolation. Generally, the situation is pathetic due to economic challenges being faced by the country putting it in a position not to fully manage the pandemic. Coupled with this, is the fact that a number of people still resist the fact that the pandemic is a reality that can affect everyone, hence making them give a deaf ear to warning communications.
JA: What are some ways of understanding Zimbabwe's COVID-19 situation that can help us live more resiliently?
RC: Resilience refers to the ability to adapt well in the face of or after exposure to adversity, trauma, tragedy, or any other source of stress. Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 situation can help people live more resiliently in the sense that Zimbabwe has other serious problems like high rates of unemployment, high inflation, drought, and now, this pandemic. However, despite the Zimbabweans being overburdened like that, there are a number of people who still believe that with COVID-19 around they will still survive. The main factor that has created so much resilience in most Zimbabweans is their attachment to their different belief systems. Strong connections with their belief systems have helped them to find meaning even in these difficult circumstances. Most Zimbabweans also value oneness and social support. This helps them share ideas on how to deal with the pandemic and on assisting each other in times of need. They also share some traditional, locally available herbs, fruits, and other plants which they believe help in preventing COVID-19 infection. Lastly, the majority of the people look at the positive side of the pandemic where, despite its fatal nature, there are a number of recoveries in the country, hence creating hope in many a Zimbabwean.
JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?
RC: A number of ways can be adopted in trying to cultivate resilience during this pandemic era. Firstly, people must have self-efficacy, the belief that one is able to cope even when the pandemic shows its ugly face. This means that even when one is infected or when a family member or someone close is infected, people must not view that as a death sentence but must still hope they will make it.
Secondly, though physical distancing has been mainly used to prevent infection, people must also maintain their social networks through virtual means. This helps to give each other support and hope that despite the pandemic being fatal, there is still hope and life must not come to a total standstill.
Another way is to cultivate positive emotions and avoid negative ones. For instance, if following up on COVID-19 statistical updates makes one feel low, helpless, and hopeless, then one must avoid such communications and try to engage in activities that bring happiness. One can even avoid talking to people who are hopeless in this situation and try to always connect with positive people.
JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?
RC: From what I have learned, it is good to believe in one’s ability despite the adversity that one may be exposed to. Such a belief will give hope even in the darkest hours of life. Many people succumb to Coronavirus because when they are affected physically, they also become affected mentally in a negative way which further weakens their immune systems. Secondly, I would like to say life is not always a bed of roses—it has got it’s up and downs—so even in difficult circumstances one should not quickly give up. As it is commonly said, ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’; ‘Each dark cloud has a silver lining’; so let us not give up. Infected or not and even when one has lost a number of significant others, let’s remain positive. One must try to develop positive emotions all the time and surround oneself with positive people.
JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?
RC: Currently, I am working on a number of research projects on COVID-19 and its effects on different groups of people. For example, I am studying how this pandemic has affected communal women’s sources of livelihoods and how it has worsened the disadvantaged nature of women from high-density areas in urban communities. I am also studying the psychosocial correlates of varied COVID-19 messages and preventive socio-behavioural measures amongst the youth in Zimbabwe. The assumption here is that these measures and behavioural measures might negatively affect the mental functioning of many young people. I am also co-authoring a book chapter on COVID-19 and mental health with a colleague as well as co-authoring a book on Psychology and Religion with another colleague. Lastly, based on my Ph.D. thesis, I am trying to develop a model that can help in promoting women empowerment in trying to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Chigevenga, R. Commentary on COVID-19 in Zimbabwe. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy: 2020, Vol. 12, No. 5, 562–564. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000692