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Letter from America with Ken Mufuka: If the doctors fail, we all fail!

By Ken Mufuka

The Zimbabwe doctors’ strike has exposed the foundational failures of the Zimbabwe governance. Doctors are in a stronger position than all of us because of their intense educational preparations. They are irreplaceable and their expertise is in demand abroad. As such they are no pushovers.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

If they fail to move the needle towards some sort of modus operandi (the way things are done) we will all fail with them.

Modus operandi

When NewsDay scribes Shepherd Tozvireva and Phylis Mbanje interviewed Pediatric surgeon, Azza Mashumba at Parirenyatwa Hospital, March 14, 2019, they could not have guessed that they were in the process of making what journalist call a scoop.  

Dr. Mashumba said these words.

“The tender process is costing lives, there are people dying. There is no urgency, there is no priority, and people are not listening to us. I have written a million lists, I have knocked on a thousand doors, I come to work and do my very best, but outputs are (stillborn) births, my output is disabled babies…” Mashumba’s voice trailed. She could not speak any more as she was choking. Tears were intensifying as they ran down her brown cheeks.

It is not that the authorities are not listening. Indeed, men in colorful scarfs, with long titles like executive general manager, armed with all the words in the lexicon “address” the doctors and nothing is done.

The significance of Dr. Mashumba’s outpouring is that the management and the hospital workers, including doctors, live in a separate world from the ZANU elites.

They listened but paid her no mind whatever (Black English). Somewhere, she mentioned the word priority.  If Generals Constantino Chiwenga and Perence Shiri fall sick- that constitutes a priority and they are flown to South Africa by helicopter.

In my hometown in South Carolina, Self-Memorial Hospital has a helipad on its roof. Any citizen needing expert care is flown to the Medical College in Charleston.

All sick people are equal.

And one wonders, how many doctors ‘salaries and equipment could have been paid for if the funds applied to the generals were used at home.

One would assume that doctors’ suggestions are sacrosanct, but nothing is simple in ZANU-PF lexicography.


Petinah Gappah, who worked as trade advisor during the post-coup transitional government described the government as a dysfunctional monolithic. “Everything they are doing is top-down without input from everyone.” She said.

In a field heavily dependent on expertise and minutia, doctors’ input should carry more weight than that of outsiders.

But there is another insight into why we fail. Gappah confirmed my previous observation. Zimbabwean government operatives are a know-it-all genre and suffer from inferiority complex. “The Zimbabwe government is an embarrassment … it always has the largest delegation (at international for a) which is always male heavy…and made up of men in dark suits.”

These men, some with fake doctoral degrees, speak the “longest words” (Black English) and make big noise. The Health Minister is suspected of possessing one of these go by night degrees.

Recognition of their titles and their elevated status in the universe is more important than the work at hand.

The doctors rightly rejected Strive Masiyiwa’s charitable intervention, free telephones and I-Pads, a six month $5 000 per doctor supplementary stipend and help with transport.

Doctors pointed out that, though given in good faith, such an intervention was only a stop gap solution. After six months there will be a return to the status quo ante. The problems are more fundamental than that. I have before me a list of nine problems which are fundamental. I will list only a few to illustrate the fact that we are dealing with an impervious ruling elite.

  1. Water supplies to hospitals are often interrupted.
  2. There are no basics, like gloves, bandages, protective wear and doctors often have to supply their own, or re-use washed bandages.
  3. Electricity is often interrupted.
  4. An incredible item reads as follows. “Government is neglecting to pay university clinicians their allowances.” Doctors have a sense of humor.
  5. Privatization of hospital services disadvantages the poor as private companies gear for higher profits.
  6. When doctors requested salary increments the Ministry replied by dismissing 450 doctors (as of December 10th) out of 1 600 in the system.

Salary grades released by doctors illustrate what the doctors have claimed is incapacitation of the system as a whole. Senior doctors salaries ranged from Z$2 900 to Z$6 000 per month.

Z$2 900                         U$145   (divide by 20)   Exchange rate 10 December

Z$6 000                         U$300

Doctors want their salaries pegged to the U$ value. Government, by devaluing the Zimbabwe dollar in June 2019, and floating it, has made this impossible. Even if the salaries were doubled, which the government proposes; the fundamental problem of salary value is not settled.

I have been informed that top government officials are paid in U$ denominated dollars, but this has not been confirmed. What is confirmed, however, is that all travel allowances outside Zimbabwe are paid for in U$ money.

Shortage of US money

While doctors face these problems attributed to shortage of foreign exchange, Public Service Medical Association (PSMAS) paid presidential spokesperson George Charamba a U$ 22 800 emolument for attending board meetings.

Since the board meets quarterly for three days, we assume that a board member takes home U$5 700 per meeting. Meanwhile doctors and hospitals were incapacitated.

I was surprised to find that there is nothing new under the sun. Here is what the prophet Ezekiel said about the nature of our problem.

Ezekiel 13.21   “I will tear off your scarfs and save my people from your hand, and they will no longer fall prey to your power.” (NET)