Barely had I finished securing my car in the parking lot of a shopping centre in Mufakose when I was accosted by a scruffy damsel selling smelly leaves of an unnamed indigenous tree, which she claimed could cure Covid-19.
“Blaz, mukafashaidza mashizha aya monatira nekunwa mvura yacho munenge mava bho. Munotozonditsvaga kuti munditende,” she said with a plastic smile, which exposed yellowing teeth in her awkwardly small mouth.
“Steaming is the best. I have plenty of other herbs that can deal with other symptoms,” she continued.
Before I could respond, a sweet-talking middle-aged man with a furrowed brow arrived offering the same services.
He reached for a sack that was underneath an abandoned vehicle I had parked next to and started showing me an assortment of herbs.
“I spent 10 days under water looking for these herbs and my ancestors gave me these, which will make you immune to coronavirus. The moment you take these ones you know you are safe,” the man said while chewing some of the tree barks he had to prove they were not poisonous. Welcome to the ghetto, where thousands of herbalists have mushroomed overnight to cash in on Covid-19.
Coronavirus has become big business and it is now almost unusual to walk into the ghetto and not be greeted by hordes of people selling remedies for the pandemic.
Called “mazango”, “muti”, “mushonga”, “raramiso”, “gwenzi”, “yambutso” or “mankwala”, some people are enjoying brisk business selling herbs to those who need them.
Whether or not they work is an instalment for another day.
Most of the self-styled herbalists move about without masks claiming they have medicines to keep them safe.
News that Zimbabwe lost over 40 people to the pandemic this week has put them in overdrive. They sell all sorts of muti to the fearful and desperate.
“My brother, this pandemic is real. People are dying every minute and every hour. You see, I have copies of The Herald, the Daily News and News Day with me here showing how serious Covid-19 is. This is no laughing matter and you can protect yourself and your loved ones through these herbs.
“Ndambakuudzwa akaonekwa nembonje pahuma. Do not start running around when calamity strikes. A stitch in time saves nine, and these small leaves I am selling here will help you if you put them to good use,” said one self-styled herbalist who identified himself as Sekuru Maoresa.
“It is out of love that I am bringing this good message to you,” he said.
Gentle reader, the moment grim statistics of Covid-19 are published, some people start counting their fortune by ostensibly extending a helping hand to the stricken.
But where do they get the herbs?
“I am a messenger of God. I was instructed by Yahweh to save the people, and he shows me in dreams where to get the remedies,” claimed one gentleman called Shumba in Glen Norah. But one youthful herbalist who identified himself as Tonde had this to say: “This is a chance to make money. I sell my medicine in powdered form and ensure I mix things that are safe and do not kill people. I normally mix baobab powder with lemons and honey, and dry them.”
So serious is the current wave of coronavirus that most governments across the globe have introduced lockdowns to restrict movement.
Zimbabwe has not been spared as it has also returned to Level Four lockdown to curb the spread of the disease and save precious lives.
The onus is on everyone to follow the rules to survive.