ZIMBABWEANS are reputed for being resilient and innovative, always devising ways of surviving in tough situations. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic claiming lives at home, in the west, especially in Italy, Spain and the Unites States, Zimbabweans have managed to keep the deadly virus at bay through laughter.

BY CLIFF CHIDUKU

The late American writer Laura Ingalls Wilder asserted “a good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing”. This rings true in Zimbabwe in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On March 27, 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a raft of measures including a total lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the virus which had claimed thousands of lives across the globe since its discovery in China last year.

As of yesterday, 228 513 people had died of the 3,3 million cases reported worldwide.

The lockdown initially ran for 21 days, but was extended by two weeks to end on May 3.

The lockdown meant that all business activity would come to a halt. Only workers in essential services were required to report for work.

What has struck fear into the hearts of mortals is the obstinate fact that this virus might not be vanishing anytime soon.

While people were observing lockdown measures in the comfort of their homes, it was humour that kept the momentum going.

“For some many of us being locked in a house like broilers for 21 days was not only unthinkable, but unsustainable considering that most of us survive from hand to mouth,” a money changer, Peter Masanga of Kuwadzana, Harare, said.

To Masanga and many other Zimbabweans across the country who did not know where the next meal would come from, the restriction was more like a jail term.

They saw death knocking at their front doors. But that Mnangagwa had said “our security sector would assist in making sure the lockdown is observed” was more telling.

“The government has announced that it has reduced the lockdown from 21 days to three weeks,” read one joke trending on social media in the initial days of the lockdown.

Others included: “Coronavirus has taught us that hand sanitisers can save lives more than anointing oil” and “Breaking news: Seven new cases confirmed today in Harare. It has been confirmed that we have another seven new cases in Zimbabwe, all of them from Harare province. Two cases have been recorded in Epworth, two cases in Eastlea, two cases in Mabvuku and one in Avondale. The cases in Epworth are land dispute cases and the ones in Eastlea are assault cases…. The two cases in Mabvuku are a suit-case and a brief-case. Both cases were taken care of by the police. And the reported one case in Avondale is a pillow case! I know you are just used to coronavirus cases these days. Don’t panic, I say, the fear is too much, A little laughter at this time is therapeutic. Stay at home, wash your hands and maintain social distance. Let’s keep coronavirus at bay,” is one joke that did rounds on social media, especially on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Even though social media is regarded as a black market of information, experts said it managed to play its part in bringing awareness on COVID-19.

“A minute of laughter allowed me to momentarily forget my sorrow and the heavy burden that I was feeling was temporarily lifted,” said a Harare-based information technology guru, Ezra Mutenha.

Tawanda Mukurunge, a media scholar based in Lesotho, said most of these jokes were replete with serious and awareness messages.

“There are serious health messages to such humour. Many of such jokes carried messages aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus. The jocular deliveries were in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines of flattening the curve by amplifying messages that encouraged sanitising, maintaining social distancing and staying at home,” he said.

“We should not underestimate the power of social media. Social media platforms have the power of simplifying complex issues by making fun out of them.”

However, Mukurunge noted that satire could be tricky, especially when communicating matters of life and death such as COVID-19.

“Matters of life and death such as coronavirus might lead humour to be interpreted as insensitive unless it is just harmless banter. Most people do not take them too seriously because they are known to be clowns,” he said.

A psychologist opines that humour has a remarkable healing force. It allows people to forget themselves and bond with the people they are laughing with.

Studies have shown that laughter and humour have a huge array of benefits including strengthening the immune system, reducing pain, and stress and increasing energy.

Zimbabwe remains in the grip of severe food insecurity, with millions of people already requiring humanitarian assistance due to prolonged climate change-induced droughts, economic deterioration and the situation is set to worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, according to the new Global Food Crisis report forecast.

The joint report anticipates a worsening food insecurity situation this year with an estimated 4,3 million people, especially in the rural areas in urgent need of aid.

“Millions of Zimbabweans are already struggling to put food on the table, having faced prolonged drought and economic hardship for some time,” said World Food Programme country director and representative Eddie Rowe.

“It is imperative that we unite to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe and provide urgent food assistance safely to prevent an already vulnerable population from slipping deeper into this hunger crisis.”

Mental health expert, Toga Katyamaenza, has also warmed that at the end of the lockdown, there will be an increase in cases of people facing mental health problems and other complications due to a number of reasons including weeks of restricted movement as citizens are not allowed to engage in unnecessary travel without valid reasons.

“After the lockdown, there will be an increase in mental health issues, and the government is not prepared to deal with these new cases,” he said. With the country facing a myriad of challenges, some of them man-made, Zimbabweans have no choice, but to resort to humour to drown their sorrows.

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