By Jeffrey Muvundusi
Zimbabwe’s late Vice President, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, is a man credited with shaping the country’s economic and social fibre.
So much has been said about his exploits before, during, and after the country’s liberation struggle against white colonial rule.
One of his many exploits was the idea of setting up the Ekusileni Medical Centre in the country’s second largest city, Bulawayo with hopes of making it an internationally-acclaimed referral hospital dealing with complicated diseases and illnesses.
To ensure the idea did not die a natural death, Nkomo went on to see to it that a board for the hospital was set up, and ensured that it was operational.
However, years after he mooted the idea, the hospital dream is yet to come to its full fruition, save for a building that stands on a piece of land just outside the city.
The 200-bed medical centre, built at a cost of ZW$4 million in 2000, has been lying idle since then.
It is now an open secret in Bulawayo that the board that Nkomo highly favoured with responsibility to get the health centre off the ground failed to reciprocate the trust that he had thrust on it.
Information at hand shows that at some point, the board procured obsolete equipment that was given a face-lift and made to look new. The equipment was condemned as obsolete by health machinery experts who had to be hired to look at the machines.
To this date, nothing has happened to those that were behind the procurement.
It is also common cause that huge sums of money, then Zimbabwe dollar denominated, could have gone unaccounted for under the previous administration. The accounts and the bank statements, then, were not audited.
Of late, efforts to have the hospital opened by several players have also hit a brick wall. Many dates have been given for the re-opening of this state-of-the-art medical facility funded by the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) but nothing has materialised.
Several ministers including vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko have separately visited the abandoned medical facility and all they have done is to give promises in typical politicking style and unfortunately this has led to Nkomo’s wish just remaining a pie in the sky.
As if that is not enough, last week, government put a tender to find a private investor by next month to run the hospital as a specialist medical institution.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister, Prisca Mupfumira, in May expressed optimism on the re-opening of the specialist hospital, saying a number of investors had expressed interest in running the medical institution.
She said her ministry and the Health and Child Care ministry would soon be negotiating with potential investors in preparation for the opening of the hospital.
While the latest move might signal hope, it is the 14-year history of failure and inconsistence that has made residents and stakeholders view those responsible for making the hospital operation as insincere in their words and action.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) spokesperson Zibusiso Dube described the development as a clear failure by the government to prioritise health.
“We see the continued closure of Ekusileni Medical Centre as a failure by the government to prioritise access to health. That such a facility remains a white elephant is testament to the fact that we lack leadership that cares enough for the people,” Dube said.
“We would like to urge the government and other stakeholders such as the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) to take concerted steps towards reopening of the facility. This is critical as there are already shortfalls with regards to health services in the city, with the existent facilities evidently overwhelmed by a growing population.”
Former Education minister Senator David Coltart believes that while the delay did not really affect the people in this city, it was in fact the name of the revered nationalist Nkomo that has been dragged in the mud.
“The delay actually hasn’t affected the people of Bulawayo that much because other medical institutions have been able to cope. The downturn in the general economy and the exodus of people since the hospital was first planned has meant that there has not been the anticipated need for it,” Coltart said.
“However, given that Nkomo’s name was given to the centre, it has been a constant reminder of the shame which has been brought to his name by the fact it has remained empty all these years. If government had really wanted to honour Nkomo they would have worked much harder to ensure that the centre opened,” said the respected lawyer.
He further noted that the best use of it would be to rent it out to a private medical institution as government does not appear to have sufficient funds to run it alone.
“Sadly, until sensible policies are adopted by the government which will boost the general economy this will probably remain a white elephant.”
Affirmative Action Group (AAG) regional president Reginald Shoko said certain people were sleeping on duty.
“There is no reason why the hospital does not operate, it’s clear that some people are sleeping on their job. For a long time, it’s been an issue of ownership now that it’s clear that Nssa owns the hospital what has been stopping them to open it,” Shoko said.
He took a swipe at the Matabeleland region leadership for having let down the vision of Father Zimbabwe.
“The hospital must open without failure and the Health minister must be taken to task on this or he must just go if he cannot carry out his mandate.”
Shoko added: “If as a country can take such years to resolve a minor issue around a hospital it means we will take a century to deliver the water from Zambezi to Bulawayo. The government must be proactive not reactive in such important issues.”
Government has failed to ensure the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) — a long-term solution to Bulawayo’s water woes — that was mooted in the 1900’s is made a reality. The project entails constructing a pipeline to draw water from the Zambezi River to the city.
Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo also expressed concern at the delay in opening the health institution.
“It is a very important investment in the city that would create certain traffic in the city since it’s meant for specialist medical services,” Moyo said.
“What this means is that instead of having people flocking to India or South Africa for treatment, patients can be even referred to Bulawayo.
If properly equipped it could serve as a regional referral hospital as the late VP Nkomo had envisaged when he came up with the initiative.” Daily News