HARARE – Government is using unorthodox tactics including political intimidation to force striking doctors to abort their industrial action, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) has claimed.
Following recent claims by government that the industrial action which has gone for over a month now was politically motivated, ZHDA secretary-general Mthabisi Bhebhe told the Daily News yesterday that doctors were now fearing for their lives as they were being followed by people in unmarked vehicles.
“Our members and some leaders are receiving intimidatory messages from unknown individuals to force us to abort the industrial action but we cannot, however, say if these are State security agents or not because this has been happening since the strike began but such tactics don’t work. Only dialogue is the way,” Bhebhe said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration—barely six months after the disputed elections held last year—is currently battling to contain a potentially explosive labour unrest with virtually all civil servants including teachers and nurses engaging in a crippling labour action demanding to be paid salaries in American dollars.
Responding to claims that spy agents were being set on the striking doctors, deputy Information minister Energy Mutodi said it is government’s belief that far from being a labour issue, the doctors’ strike is political.
“If the doctors want to be treated as professionals they must desist from associating with hostile opposition political elements because that would be tantamount to attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government,” Mutodi said.
While denying that State security agents were spying on the doctors, Mutodi said it was clear that the health professionals were taking instructions from MDC leader Nelson Chamisa who recently backed their demands to be paid in United States dollars.
“Government is not spying on anyone but we have gathered evidence that there are some underground activities taking place and that is why you heard Chamisa publicly supporting them because he wants to use the labour unrest to destabilise the government,” he said urging doctors to be patient with their employer.
“The doctors must realise that they are in a third world country and all is not well. Government is trying to rebuild the economy that is coming from a long period of recession”.
ZHDA has accused government of deploying a joint taskforce of the country’s security forces to deal with industrial action.
“The threats have been piling every day. Recently we heard about the deployment of a joint operations task force to handle the situation as it is. Why the task force has been deployed to deal with a labour dispute that can be resolved by a simple one day discussion and signing agreements is shocking,” the ZHDA doctors said yesterday.
They also alleged that individual doctors were also being threatened by suspected State security agents.
“This, we perceive as a disproportionate and uncalled for response to the real matter at hand…the situation is getting increasingly difficult for the doctors to go to work in such a threatening environment,” they said.
The doctors also maintained that there was nothing political about them asking for better conditions of service from their employer.
They said it was unfair to accuse them of being political on account of individuals who comment on their job action as they have no power to do so.
Government has since started inviting applications from candidates who have completed five years in the Medical School to fill in vacancies left by the 500 junior doctors it suspended over the strike.
This comes as senior doctors, nurses and teachers have also thrown their weight behind the junior doctors, plunging the health delivery system into chaos.