HARARE – Hundreds of Zimbabwean doctors protested in central Harare on Monday over the disappearance of the leader of their union, but riot police blocked them from marching to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office.
Peter Magombeyi, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), was one of the organisers of an ongoing strike to demand higher wages for state doctors because of soaring living costs, before he disappeared on Saturday night.
ZHDA represents mainly junior doctors at public hospitals.
His colleagues have alleged he was abducted by the security services in an attempt to break the strike, which has disrupted healthcare services in hospitals, but a government spokesman denied they was responsible.
Rights groups accused the government of abducting activists in the lead-up to planned opposition protests last month, when the government also denied responsibility. Most were released after several hours, though many had been badly beaten, stripped, threatened or otherwise mistreated.
Nick Mangwana, the information ministry’s secretary, suggested the abductions were being carried out by a “third force” to destabilise the country.
“Threats to the security of persons and acts of terror are ultimately threats to the security of the state. There is no rhyme nor reason for the state to undermine itself,” he said.
Mnangagwa’s government has said it will not use excessive force against protesters after being criticised over its heavy-handed response to post-election violence last year and protests over fuel price hikes this year.
Doctors chanted “No Peter, No Work” and held placards reading “Bring Peter Back” as riot police stopped them from marching beyond the High Court building – a block away from Mnangagwa’s Munhumutapa offices.
The doctors dispersed after police allowed half a dozen of them to deliver a petition to Mnangagwa’s office demanding action over Magombeyi’s disappearance, but they said their strike would continue.
“Dr Peter Magombeyi’s whereabouts remain unknown, and we are seriously concerned about this. We therefore demand his unconditional return to his family,” the petition read.
Doctors also marched at the United Bulawayo Hospitals and Mpilo Central Hospital in solidarity.
Dr Mthabisi Bhebhe, the secretary general of the ZHDA, told doctors at Mpilo in Bulawayo: “We don’t expect that in Zimbabwe, with the security apparatus that we have and the share of the national budget that we always put towards the security sector that a doctor can go missing, and no-one knows where he is. That’s totally unacceptable.”
Senior doctors also wrote to Mnangagwa, saying they had withdrawn their services with effect from 8AM on Monday.
“We are seriously concerned about his (Dr Magombeyi) welfare and demand his unconditional return to his family,” the doctors said.
Magombeyi’s sister on Sunday filed an urgent application in the courts to compel the government to do everything to find her brother. The court was due to hear the case on Monday.
Police could not comment on the matter.
Two years after Mnangagwa and the army conspired to oust long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, people are suffering from triple-digit price rises and shortages of basic goods like fuel.
Mnangagwa’s government has promised salary increases to public sector workers, but many say those rises are insufficient. Doctors received an increment of $360 Zimbabwe dollars, which they have rejected as too low.
Diplomats said they were monitoring whether authorities respect the people’s right to protest peacefully. – Reuters