Police in Zimbabwe arrested 12 nurses protesting outside state hospitals on Monday demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars as inflation running at nearly 800% was eroding their salaries, the country’s nurses union said.
An economic crisis under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revived memories of the hardships of more than a decade ago when hyperinflation wiped out savings and pensions and forced the country to dump its currency in favour of the U.S. dollar.
The demonstrations, including at Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital in the capital Harare, come at a time COVID-19 cases are rising in the southern African nation, which has recorded 716 infections and eight deaths so far.
Nurses holding placards reading “No U.S. dollar no work” and “#Nurses can’t breath” said they had to protest because they cannot survive on a monthly salary of 3,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($47).
“The situation is bad and our cause is justified,” Pretty Gudza, a mother of four told Reuters during the protest in Harare. “I cannot work for nothing, I have to eat and I have to be mentally healthy so that I can assist the sick.”
Nurses also gathered in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second biggest city, to demand better pay, said Enock Dongo, president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Union.
He said 12 demonstrators had been arrested in Harare, where a Reuters witness saw police detaining nurses.
Police national spokesman Paul Nyathi said he was unaware of the arrests and would investigate.
Mnangagwa’s government announced a 50% salary hike for state employees last month and a $75 allowance for three months but workers said the increase did not reflect in their June pay.
Zimbabwe reintroduced its local currency last year after a decade of official use of the U.S. dollar but the local currency rapidly lost value, sending prices rocketing and raising fears of renewed hyperinflation.
Zimbabwe’s inflation rate stands at 785%, one of the highest in the world, while businesses charge in U.S. dollars and use black market rates to calculate prices in the local currency, making goods too expensive for many.
Last month, Zimbabwe suspended trade on the stock exchange and some mobile phone payments, which account for over 80% of all transactions, as part of efforts to arrest the local currency’s slide.