COVID-19: ‘Open for all’: Outrage as Sakunda steps in to revive two idle hospitals for coronavirus

HARARE – Kuda Tagwirei’s Sakunda Holdings says it is funding the revival of two idled private hospitals in Harare so they can be used in government’s coronavirus response, scrambling to cool public outrage over reports the facilities are to be reserved for the elite.

Sakunda says it will fund the reopening of St Anne’s hospital in Avondale, and Rock Foundation Medical Centre in Arundel, so that they can be used as coronavirus treatment centres. Sakunda says it hopes to have one of the two hospitals running by next Wednesday, “if all processes are done on time”.

The company was forced to release a statement after reports that Rock Foundation was being set aside for wealthy politicians. The reports stoked widespread rage, coming a day after it was revealed how broadcaster Zororo Makamba died of coronavirus on Monday due to neglect and a lack of basic equipment and medication at Wilkins, the public hospital being used as Harare’s referral centre for the outbreak.

The company said the two hospitals would be used for coronavirus responses only and would be “open to everyone contrary to social media reports that they will be open to government and ZANU PF bigwigs”.

While government officials and Sakunda are casting Sakunda’s intervention as philanthropy, Sakunda’s move on the hospitals does little to ease concern over Tagwirei’s influence over government.

With its big contracts as government’s largest grain and fuel broker, Sakunda has drawn controversy and charges of “state capture”, charges that the company denies. Tagwirei has, over the past year, extended his commercial reach by acquiring interests in mines and financial institutions.

According to Sakunda, company officials had toured the two facilities and are ready to foot the refurbishment bill at St Anne’s.

“The government of Zimbabwe has implemented a raft of measures to curb and control the outbreak of the disease albeit under tough economic circumstances. It is against this background that Sakunda Holdings (Pvt) Ltd and its associates have come up with a private initiative to complement government efforts to curb this pandemic specifically in the provision of health facilities, equipment, training and vaccines. Sakunda has identified Rock Foundation Medical Centre as a facility in the fight against COVID-19,” the company quotes a letter by Everton Mlalazi, said to be in charge of Special Projects at Sakunda.

Sakunda says it had asked government to speed up all the authorisations needed.

“Licenses will be sought from the following bodies: MCAZ, Pharmacists Council, Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe, Medical and Dental Council of Zimbabwe and Health Professions Authority,” said Mlalazi in his letter.

The company says Agnes Mahomva, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, had in turn written to St Annes, supporting Sakunda’s proposal.

“The team was satisfied with what they saw during the tour and would like you to finalise our request. Please note that we have since identified Sakunda holdings (copied) to be our partner to work with us and yourselves to do all the remaining renovations and refurbishments necessary for the hospital to function in the shortest period of time,” Mahomva said in her letter, according to Sakunda.

“Sakunda Holdings has confirmed that they have the resources and funding to do the work and hence refurbishments will not be at your costs. May you also note as discussed during the tour of your hospital our request to use this facility is for up to six months only for the COVID-19 response,” said the Mahomva letter.

Sakunda says it will use its resources in the provision of health facilities, equipment, training of medical personnel and vaccines.

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Rock Foundation was owned by Munyaradzi Kereke, a former ZANU PF MP currently serving jail time for rape. It shut down in 2014 after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority garnished the company’s accounts over US$3.3 million in tax arrears.

The hospital then lost all its equipment to a variety of creditors. Among these were Select Healthcare, which had supplied medical equipment worth US$55 999.45 in 2012 but was never paid. Select won an order to reclaim the equipment, leaving the hospital bare.

Significantly, Rock Foundation was said to have also been indebted to CBZ, which won a court order to attach the property in September 2014 over a US$3 million debt. Tagwirei now reportedly has a significant stake in CBZ.

St Anne’s was shut down in 2015 after a rental dispute between pharmaceutical company CAPS, which ran the hospital, and property owners the Little Company of Mary, a Catholic grouping.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded three positive cases of COVID19, but its response to the pandemic has been hurt by inadequate test kits and a collapsed healthcare system. On Wednesday, junior doctors and nurses announced they would not attend to work until they were given enough protective clothing.