Opposition politicians conspired with the leadership of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) to embark on a strike that led to thousands of health professionals losing their jobs last week, it has emerged.
The strike is part of a larger ploy by opposition politicians to stir labour unrest in the hope that it will reduce the chances of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu-PF party sweeping elections this year.
Zina last night asked its members to return to duty on Monday because the “collective job action has been highly politicised”.
It also emerged yesterday that the number of fired nurses has been grossly inflated by the political lobby, with Government saying 5 093 had been identified for dismissal.
Zimbabwe’s total nursing staff compliment is 16 974, and opposition politicians and some sections of the media have claimed that all have been fired and yet just 30 percent were affected.
The actual number of vacant nursing posts at present is closer to 2 000. This is because 2 400 unemployed nurses who were in the Health Services Board database were automatically recruited and many of them had already been deployed to clinics and hospitals by yesterday.
So rapid has been Government’s response to the politically-motivated strike that as of yesterday, Harare Hospital, a key referral institution, had all nursing posts occupied.
Investigations show that the 5 093 nurses were misled by their union leadership, among whom is at least one official who wants to represent the opposition MDC-T in the National Assembly in the 2018 elections.
The majority of those who were identified for dismissal have reapplied for their jobs, joining thousands of unemployed nurses who have stampeded to fill the posts after Government last week asked them to take their striking colleagues’ places.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenytawa said: “I assure the nation that normalcy has been restored in all Government hospitals and recruitment in all provinces is underway.
“Of the 16 974 nurses that we have in the country, 5 093 were served with dismissal letters – which is 30 percent of the entire nursing workforce.
“Of the dismissed, in provinces such as Bulawayo, Matebeleland South and Masonaland West, all the nurses have either reapplied or have indicated that they want to come back, and we will make sure we re-engage them.
“We have also been receiving applications from unemployed nurses, both who were already in the database and not, and also those who qualified in March.”
Dr Parirenyatwa slammed opposition politicians’ use of hospitals as campigning venues.
This was after the leader of an MDC-T faction, Mr Nelson Chamisa, yesterday choreographed a visit to public hospitals to push his political agenda.
The Health Minister said: “I am very much against those who come to hospitals and use the hospitals to drive their political motives because a hospital is a high security area and the patients should be well protected at all costs.
“The hospital is also an area of confidentiality and therefore one cannot just come and invade the privacy of patients like that. Lastly, the hospital is a sacred place where people are treated and were some die and therefore not a political play ground. That must come to an end.”
Yesterday, the Health Services Board said of those nurses who had been identified for dismissal, some had “already received their dismissal letters, signed and reapplied; some have not received the letters; while some have received but not reapplied”.
“We have four districts that have not yet handed in the names of the nurses to be dismissed. About 2 400 nurses that were already in the database have been automatically employed, but to bridge the remaining gap the recruitment process is ongoing so we are to look at retirees and those that are reapplying.
“We cannot give detailed information on hospitals that have completed recruiting, but Harare Hospital is one of the institutions that has completed the recruitment,” the board said.
At about 7pm yesterday, Zina called off the strike “to pave way for re-opening of negotiations and protection of our workers”.
The union also said it was “highly regrettable that our cause of collective job action has been highly politicised”.
But this was after it had already become clear that nurses were being used as the first wave in a scheme to orchestrate a series of strikes by public sectors workers ahead of national elections.
The Sunday Mail established that the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, led by Mr Takavafira Zhou, had come up with a “solidarity campaign” that would see teachers go on strike next month.
The project is being fanned under the line, “Teachers are their own liberators: its game on second term 2018.”
On Friday, opposition activists led by Mr Doug Coltart – son of MDC-T MP Mr David Coltart – organised a poorly attended “solidarity” event in Harare’s Africa Unity Square.
All this was despite the fact that Zina on April 15, 2018 acknowledged that Government had agreed to address nurses grievances.
This was after the Zimbabwe National Elders Forum, represented by Father Fidelis Mukonori, had mediated a meeting between employer and employees.
The Zina internal communication in our possession reads: “We are just coming from a meeting with HSB (Health Services Board), MoHCC (Health Ministry), Minister Parirenyatwa, Chief (Fortune) Charumbira, Ministry of Finance, pastors and Zina executives.
“The employer promised to effect the following allowances by Thursday 19 April 2018; night duty allowances to be paid for the following grades D1 to D4 at a rate of $217 to $303.
“Standby allowance for rural health centre staff to be paid at a rate of $240 for grades C5 to D4. Post basic allowance S70 for one. Grading and advancement arrears to be paid on the same date (and) rationalisation of allowance to be disclosed tomorrow.”
Nonetheless, the Zina executive told members to go on strike on April 16 – a day after communicating the good news and three days before the agreed date the money would be paid into accounts.
Zina president Ms Simangaliso Mafa yesterday insisted they had made the correct decision to go on the strike that resulted in members losing their jobs and patients going for days without treatment.
Asked if there was a political motive behind the action, she said would respond later but had not done so by the time of going to print. She also would not say whether or not she intended to stand in MDC-T’s primary elections.
However, several nurses who called The Sunday Mail during the week said they had been unwittingly “used” by politicians.
“Our president (Mafa) is said to be eyeing a post but from our standpoint we thought we had genuine concerns and our actions were above board.
“We feel our job action was infiltrated by politicians and the employer is now treating all of us as politicians,” one of them said.
By last night, service at healthcare institutions was normal. – Sunday News