Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
BEING taken into a quarantine centre caused enough strain for a Victoria Falls family but being labelled Covid-19 patients by fellow residents, even after testing negative and getting discharged, is “too” traumatising to an extent that the family wants to relocate.
Mr Trust Mlauzi (54), his wife Ms Misiwe Moyo (52), their 17-year-old daughter, four-year-old son and five-year-old grandson spent 11 days at Mosi-oa-Tunya High School quarantine centre where they were procedurally taken to by the Covid-19 Rapid Response Team (RRT) early last month.
This was after the family failed to notify authorities about the 17-year-old girl and grandson who had illegally returned from South Africa using umalayitsha.
The RRT raided and took the five, and warned co-tenants to keep to their side of the house or risk be taken into quarantine as well.
Also raided separately on the same day were Mr Thomas Sibanda (53) who had sneaked into the country from Namibia where he was based and Mr Cabangani Sibindi (33), who was fished from home in Matetsi, about 40km outside Victoria Falls after illegally returning from South Africa in May to attend his mother’s funeral. The two were also taken to the quarantine centre and have also been released.
Mr Mlauzi’s 25-year-old son Khulekani was not at home when his parents and siblings were taken away.
While they were taken in as a family, they lived separately at the quarantine centre for 11 days.
The family is one of the many that have been separately raided and quarantined for harbouring illegal returnees.
Recently 23 members of two families in Malunku area in Lupane were quarantined at Mabhikwa High School quarantine centre after they harboured two relatives who had returned from South Africa.
The 23 were released from the quarantine centre after testing negative to Covid-19 while their two relatives are still isolated at St Luke’s Hospital isolation centre.
Name calling and even avoiding people who have been discharged from quarantine for Covid-19 is prevalent among communities.
While the Mlauzi family had no problem with being quarantined as it acknowledged the process as one of Covid-19 prevention measures, they are concerned about the trauma they are going through as a result of discrimination by members of the public.
Mr Mlauzi said his daughter and grandson arrived on June 1 and he had planned to approach a local councillor two days later to seek guidance on how to handle the whole issue.
“While I was at work my wife phoned me saying there were two police officers at home asking about our daughter. I found police cars and an ambulance parked at home when I knocked off and I almost collapsed thinking something bad had happened. I told them I didn’t know the procedure hence I had planned to go to the councillor over the issue because I would have missed work because of that.
“You can imagine the trauma of being carried in an ambulance with all its sirens and lights on and escorted by police. Scores of neighbours gathered to witness this and it has affected us as a family. The community now treats us like people with leprosy. You can feel and see it in people each time you go out. People refer to us as coronavirus patients and whenever we meet they ask about how we’re feeling. It’s traumatising. I wish we could just carry our house and go to a totally new place where we are not known,” said a distressed Mr Mlauzi, as he requested that no picture of his family be published.
While he commended social welfare and health staff at the quarantine centre for taking good care of him and his family, Mr Mlauzi said the excitement about being released from quarantine was short-lived because of the stigma they found in the community.
He said they have tried to just ignore and stay indoors.
“Some don’t speak directly but we overhear when they talk. I am still going to work but some always make funny jokes saying I should be taken back to quarantine. I don’t know if they are really joking or it’s their way of reminding me about what I have gone through,” Mr Mlauzi lamented, telling rumour mongers to “stop spreading rubbish or ask if something really tickles them to talk.”
They were tested on the eighth day after their arrival at the quarantine centre with results coming three days later.
Mr Mlauzi said he and his family were too anxious while waiting for the results as they were scared they may be positive.
Ms Moyo, who sells home-made floor polish, also narrated how residents have come up with derogatory names for her.
She said her daughter is the worst affected as her friends have even abandoned her.
“People are saying our daughter came back very sick and seriously coughing hence the reason for being quarantined. Some have even gone further and alleged the whole family is sick. Someone even approached my relative and told her that we had been taken to Mkhosana clinic after being diagnosed of Covid-19, which is not true. I have been selling ‘cobra’ since 1995 and now whenever I go out to sell people ask about my health while now refering to me as ‘that coronavirus positive woman who sells cobra.’
“This has traumatised my daughter and she no longer goes outside her room. We could still be on lockdown but we are allowed to go the shops which she is scared of doing because of people’s behaviour. People are referring to her as a sick person and this has destroyed her self-esteem. Some of her friends have also deserted her which is worrying to us her parents. She is now contemplating going to South Africa once the lockdown is over. We don’t want that because she is still young. People should stay away from other people’s business,” Ms Moyo said.
She said they had given everything to God, as she commended members of the Twelve Apostles Church for standing by the family.
Khulekani blamed the trauma on authorities for the way his family was taken. “While that was procedural, authorities should have used a better way to protect us than to draw attention of the whole community. It was as if there had been accident or someone had died hence this stigma,” he said.
While the community may despise the family, it’s prudent to remind members of the public that people coming from quarantine centres are safer from Covid-19 because they have been tested.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo who is also chairperson of the provincial taskforce for Covid-19, said discrimination of people released from quarantine is worrying.
He said efforts are being made through awareness campaigns to educate members of the community not to discriminate against each other.
“As our quarantine centres continue to receive more returnees, we urge communities to welcome back returning citizens and help them reintegrate with the society. Together we can fight stigma and discrimination of both survivors and our returning citizens. Let’s support them to adjust to life with us.
“We once had a report about members of the public in Lupane that were running away from someone who had been released from quarantine. We sent a team to educate villagers about the virus and quarantine rules.
“People should understand, they accept border jumpers but discriminate against those coming from quarantine centres who have proof that they have been tested and are clean. It’s upon us as a society to embrace each other and move forward regardless of the past. We are raising awareness through traditional leaders and we want everyone to know that being in quarantine doesn’t mean one has Covid-19.” — @ncubeleon