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Respect striking nurses’ rights

Attempts by the government to politicise the ongoing industrial action by nurses flies in the face of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s repeated pledge that his new administration is ushering Zimbabwe into “a new and unfolding democracy”.

Attempts by the government to politicise the ongoing industrial action by nurses flies in the face of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s repeated pledge that his new administration is ushering Zimbabwe into “a new and unfolding democracy”.

Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to the presidency in November last year, after the army toppled then leader Robert Mugabe, gave new hope that for once long-suffering Zimbabweans would endure unfettered freedoms.

During Mugabe’s era, labour rights, especially for civil servants, were routinely violated and the recent strikes by doctors and nurses were a severe test for the new administration to prove that its leaders mean what they say when they claim it’s a new era of democracy.

However, the illogical decision made on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence Day last week to fire all the 15 000 striking nurses showed that nothing has really changed in this country.

Vice-president Constantino Chiwenga (pictured below), who took ownership of the decision, claimed there was a political hand in the strike, but he has dismally failed to substantiate the allegations.

For a long time, health workers had to contend with deplorable working conditions due to neglect by the government.

They watch helplessly every day patients dying because hospitals have no essential drugs and other vital equipment, while the authorities spend lavishly on foreign trips.

Doctors and nurses are poorly paid. Job boycotts had become routine in the past four years with the government making promises to health workers that it never kept.

Last week, nurses exercised their rights guaranteed in section 65 of the constitution, which protects them in case they opt for collective job action if the employer turns a blind eye to their grievances.

It has become clear that Chiwenga’s decision to summarily dismiss the nurses was not made in the interest of ordinary Zimbabweans, who are now being denied access to affordable health in the confusion that ensued after the VP’s intervention.

Seriously ill patients are being turned away from referral hospitals and there are reports of unnecessary deaths.

The government’s move to hire unemployed and retired nurses will not change the situation anytime soon because of the bureaucracy that goes with the employment of civil servants.

This means that if Chiwenga’s decision to dismiss the 15 000 nurses is not reversed as a matter of urgency, the crisis in the country’s health sector will continue to deepen. The government must, as a matter of urgency, revisit the way it is handling the strike and engage the nurses to ensure the right of Zimbabweans to access affordable health is restored.

Mnangagwa’s government also has to revise its priorities when it comes to health funding and strive to meet the 15% threshold for the health sector allocation in the national budget as set out in the Abuja Declaration.

Adequate funding will ensure pharmacies at health centres are restocked with essential drugs and health workers get appropriate equipment to carry out their duties. IT AIN’T MONEY WE LACK. IT’S METHOD!

In the absence of any founding theory of governance and growth and development behind the names on the ballot paper… in the absence of a distinguishing philosophy of leadership, a known and commonly shared appreciation of the genesis, nature, evolvement, dynamics and future implications of the core of our national challenges, and in the absence of a compelling vision or any vision at all, of the solution and direction that Zimbabwe should take in the future in order to emerge from its hell-hole, I insist Zimbabweans are just fulfilling a calendar ritual to choose leaders, but there is no material basis for elections.

Something is amiss when, in a young, intellectually robust democracy like ours, a nation that is perennially on a precipice of potential collapse, approaching such an important leadership decision, the only material difference between Presidential candidates is age, height, gender, tribe and motorcades and bling. Aren’t we better than that? Is this not a time our media should be facilitating a robust platform of alternative leadership ideologies with teams of development and economic think tanks backing their respective Presidential candidates and trading brain blows, outlining the virtues of their diverse worldviews to provoke and instruct national discourse? Why should a citizen care whether they vote or do not, or whether they vote for Khamisa and the MDC Alliance2 or Madame Khuphe and the MDC Alliance1 or Mutinhiri and ZANU(PF) Ori, or Dr Nkosana Moyo and the Alliance for the Peoples Agenda or ED and the Zanu(PF) Junta or Mujuru and ZANU(PF)W or indeed Parafini and the Zimbabwe EDiots if there is no fundamental policy offering for the future of one’s children or any discernable ideological difference between any of the clowns on stage?

40 years of continuous voting have the self-same result, year in year out… vacuous promises, vague ideology, poor governance, plunder, mismanagement, excuses and invariably, downright failure! At our worst, between 2000 and 2007 the national economy had plunged by as much as 44%, inflation had vaulted to over 66000% and there were persistent all round shortages of currency, fuel, medicines and food and basic livelihood. Per capita GDP had dropped by 40% with agricultural output having plunged 51% and industrial production by 47%. Similarly foreign direct investment had fallen from $400million to a paltry $30million. Except for the nauseating Mugabe Must Go song, neither media nor civic organisation nor university really interrogated why we got into that ditch, in terms less of emotional finger-pointing and blame-shifting and more of national policy review and creating a shared national understanding of what’s good and what’s not so good for national development.

Now, a few months before a watershed election and 10 years of lessons learnt beyond that colossal plunge, the current economic indicators are not any more flattering, nor are all the positive economic projections being bandied about, purportedly on the back of signed deals, mining and mineral exports and promises of FDI- quite convincing. We keep running in a shrinking circle of promises and lies! Citizens and voters need to be aware of and alert to futility and meaninglessness of the strings of signatures that ED brags about. Mugabe signed much more and all came to nought! The national income statistics being so gleefully, yet so poorly thrown around by Chinamasa and the Magundyas as firm projections of short to medium term recovery and economic growth are all purposively choreographed election marketing econo-gimmics. The stats and the promises are all in the future, based on no verifiable empirical evidence but hopeful signatures – but more importantly, these wild economic postulations do not point us to the conditions of poverty disparities of our people, the disproportionate distribution of resources, the entrenched wealth accumulation and unapologetic plunder by a chosen few and the shooting increase of social inequality in our country. Or how the promised tranches are intended to resolve these real development questions of our time. It is not money we are short of. It is method.

It is most unfortunate that, over the years, the media and society have allowed the impression created by ZANU(PF) that Independence was the end and be-it all of our development struggle. Independence was a means, and not the aim of development. I dare say it only ushered in the very beginning of our development endeavour, and those that helped it happen did a great job of that opening prayer, but should long have taken their seats at the back and allowed the development proper to continue. Similarly these free flowing economic indices of growth are often unduly mistaken for development. The calculation of growth per se is important, but absolutely inadequate. (Not that we have any growth to talk about Mr President.) But the ultimate challenge is to change the nature, and influence the quality of the development process.

If by some stroke of luck, President Mnangagwa were to put the country on a path that shows significant strides in economic growth, or indeed President Khamisa were to see his spaghetti road network and bullet trains, miraculously come to being, but neither of them deliberately addresses the country’s underlying social problems or fails to address the internal conditions of social inequality, our independence will forever ring hollow .

It is the Internal inconsistencies and contradictions in our society, whether we have little or an abundance of resources, that make our definition of development and leadership problematic. The size and nature of government and its thinking about policy must be known to us before we set out to choose. We can’t wake up playing surprised when a military junta throws 4000 professionals out on the streets! Its lazy citizenship.

President Khamisa and all his ferry-land competitors, need to understand that the arrival of a spaghetti economy, a state –of –art hospital and super highway in the midst of Zvimba poverty or Siabuwa squalor is not development. Zvimba villagers do not own the motor vehicles to enjoy your highway sir. They walk on the side of the tarmac. Whose spaghetti roads are you dreaming about? Zvimba villagers can never afford modern medicines, expensive doctors and hospital fees. Who in this humble community can ever access or afford your dream of super modern institution. Ailing villagers will walk through the lush hospital grounds to access herbal health care services from a traditional healer over the mountain, while your supersonic wards remain beautiful , immaculate, empty white elephants.

Indeed, there is hardly any theoretical or ideological value that one can glean of our hundred plus Presidential candidates and assess them on and therefore justify his/her vote by. They just present their names, cars, designer suits and say ‘ vote for me!’ – And a whole nation gets into a baseless conversation of choice!

The candidates’ murmurings about glitz and glamour and boom tends to locate them within long discredited, archaic theories of evolutionary economics. Our esteemed candidates are happy to present a one size-fits-all, often Eurocentric magic bullet approach to our challenges, but fail to apply their minds to the most basic internal dynamics and real challenges of our time, our economy and our politics. The luxury for blind voting is behind us, IT IS TIME Zimbabwe