Zimbabwe moved to avert a potential diplomatic fallout with China on Saturday, distancing itself from remarks attributed to its Defense Minister Oppah Muchinguri in which she is heard blaming the Chinese for Covid-19 following the death of a relative.
In a Borat-style phone interview recorded by journalist Simba Chikanza, a distraught woman said to be Muchinguri is heard weeping uncontrollably over the death of Ellen Gwaradzimba, the Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs.
With Chikanza “weeping” along while pretending to be a relative, the grief-stricken Muchinguri goes on to blame China for originating Covid-19 with an experiment that went awry.
Coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
“The Chinese… they are the ones who started their experiments and things got out of hand and now their experiments are costing us. They can’t control this now,” the alleged Muchinguri says, according to a transcript provided by the journalist.
“They have cost us. Those whom we call our all-weather friends, look at what they have done to us.”
The viral audio forced Harare to issue a damage control statement saying it does not hold China responsible for the deadly respiratory virus, which has infected 26,881 people in Zimbabwe and killed 683 others. It has also killed more than 2 million people globally.
“We wish to make it clear that the sentiments expressed do not reflect the position of the government of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe and China enjoy excellent relations,” said Constance Chemwayi, Zimbabwe’s foreign affairs spokesperson.
“The government does not hold the Chinese government responsible for the emergence and spread of the coronavirus that has affected every global citizen.
“Government appreciates that China has exercised global leadership in efforts to find both the cause and a solution to the pandemic,” Chemwayi added.
Muchinguri denied speculation that she was also down with coronavirus.
The recording provoked a gamut of responses among Zimbabweans, with some questioning Chikanza’s journalistic ethics while others downright mocked the minister for falling for the spoof.
Others were measured.
“After Simba did a Borat on Oppah Muchinguri, the regime is forced into a damage-limitation exercise to pacify the all-weather friend, China, which Oppah accused of generating Covid-19 from a botched experiment,” commented lawyer Alex Magaisa on Twitter.
“Last time, it was damage limitation after Oppah accused the US of same.”
Muchinguri once took delight in the virus’ spread in the United States of America saying it was God’s punishment against Washington for imposing economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.