RIOT police on Wednesday reportedly stormed Bindura General Hospital and indiscriminately beat up nurses for joining a nationwide strike by health workers protesting over salaries and poor working conditions.
This came as public hospitals yesterday discharged patients and closed wards as the strike entered day four with no solution in sight.
And there were also strong indications that schools might be forced to close early after a sizeable chunk of teachers downed tools starting Monday demanding improved working
On Wednesday, there was drama at Bindura General Hospital when baton-wielding riot police officers stormed the health institution and indiscriminately beat up nurses for downing tools.
A video in possession of NewsDay showed nurses running and scurrying for cover as riot police officers chased and beat them up.
Some of the nurses had to remove their uniforms to escape the wrath of the police. Elderly nurses could also be seen trying to run away with limited success.
But national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was unaware of the incident.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo condemned the police action as barbaric and deplorable.
“The hospital is deserted; nurses have stayed at home because they fear being beaten. The fear has triggered nurses to boycott their workstation,” he said.
“The overzealousness of the police has worsened the situation because other nurses from other hospitals might also stay at home fearing to be beaten up by the police.”
At Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Chitungwiza Central Hospital, patients were discharged from wards in a total shutdown of health services.
In other cities, NewsDay witnessed people taking away their relatives from wards because no one was attending to them.
Health Apex leader Tapiwanashe Kusotera told NewsDay that most provincial hospitals were deserted.
“We hope that the government takes this as an urgent matter,” Kusotera said.
“We take job action as the last resort. As we speak, some hospitals have shut down. The situation is not looking good, and we implore authorities to take this seriously. Government has not offered us anything as of today but we keep demanding that the issues we are raising must be addressed.”
Health Service Board executive director Angelbert Mbengwa said the board was still making consultations towards finding a win-win situation.
“At the moment, I can’t really comment on the government’s position on the issue. Once there is a concrete position on what we are going to do, we will notify the public,” Mbengwa said.
Contacted for comment, Public Service Commission secretary Jonathan Wutawunashe said he was in a meeting.
But Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike warned of loss of lives if government dragged its feet in addressing the concerns of health workers.
“The current impasse between the striking health workers and government over demands for improved working conditions, tools of trade and better remuneration has taken too long to address resulting in the untold suffering to the general public and now causing unnecessary preventable and avoidable deaths,” he said.
“We want to encourage genuine dialogue and long-lasting solutions to the current stalemate instead of intimidation or firing. Both parties should bear in mind that more than 90% of the Zimbabwean population depends on the public health delivery system.”
Civil servants last week rejected a 100% salary hike insisting on United States dollar salaries.
Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (ZCPSTU) secretary-general David Dzatunga said: “The economy has already dollarised. Traders and even government institutions are charging in foreign currency when the government workers are earning in local currency. It won’t work.”
Teachers’ representatives said 55% of their members were not reporting for duty, and accused government of trivialising workers’ grievances.
“Government is using double standards in addressing the teachers’ concerns,” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said.
“It is very unfortunate that the government has found trade unions who are doing firefighting and distracting the teachers’ efforts in fighting for restoration of the US$540 salaries. The problem is getting out of hand and I don’t see schools remaining open till the end of the term.”
But the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) said its member were reporting for duty.
“We have not taken a position yet. We are negotiating for a salary review under the ZCPSTU and we are set to have a meeting this week,” Zimta secretary-general Goodwill Taderera said.
“The outcome of that meeting will determine how we are going to deal with the issue.”
There is also simmering discontent in the private sector as workers demand United States dollar salaries in the face of a devaluing local currency due to skyrocketing inflation.