, 07 October, 2020 / 8:40 PM
A Catholic Bishop in Zimbabwe has termed as “unconstitutional” the move by President Emerson Mnangagwa-led Government to enroll “junior (medical) doctors” into the army before they are allowed to work in State hospitals.
Bishop Raymond Tapiwa Mupandasekwa of Zimbabwe’s Chinhoyi Diocese who was presiding over Holy Mass Sunday, October 4 also said that the move is a cause of “great distress.”
“Dear friends, what great distress was brought upon us as a nation when the plight of our doctors was a few days ago responded to by the terrible proposition to turn our civilian doctors into soldiers who will from then on go by instruction?” Bishop Mupandasekwa posed in reference to the contents of the September 28 letter from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health.
Issued by Zimbabwe’s Health Service Board (HSB), the letter announced the requirement that junior doctors in the Southern African enroll in the military first before they can be allowed to work in government hospitals.
“The Health Service Board was in August 2020 granted concurrence by the Ministry of Finance to appoint 407 junior resident medical officers (JRMO) on the conditions that some of them are appointed by the Defense Forces Services Commission,” the leadership of the HSB stated in the September 28.
Addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the country’s Ministry of Health, Jasper Chimedza, the letter also decreed that 230 JRMO who were sitting for their final examinations “will be ready to be absorbed in the service upon successful graduation.”
“In view of the Treasury concurrence, the Health Service Board is recommending that the 230 JRMO be employed under the Zimbabwe Defense Forces who indicated that they are willing and ready to do so,” the leadership of the HSB added in the September 28 letter.
Bishop Mupandasekwa said that the requirement infringes on the doctors’ “freedom of choice” and apportions blame on the country’s ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF).
“Indeed, the freedom party refuses to give freedom of choice by refusing to listen to the cries of the distressed doctors, instead they propose more distress,” the Zimbabwean Bishop said in his homily Sunday, October 4 at Corpus Christi Cathedral.
He termed the move as part of the ZANU–PF’s unthought-out policies saying if the country’s “poor policies do not change, the situation will not only get worse, (but) the poor are always the poor are always the victims.”
Bishop Mupandasekwa went on to bemoan the medical doctors’ brain drain in Zimbabwe that has seen Western countries “reaping where they did not sow” while the “country that gave birth to them continues to suffer from a desperate situation of hospitals without doctors.”
“We are now heading to become a state without doctors as these unconstitutional propositions are a distraction of the medical practice as we know it,” the member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (C.Ss.R.) said.
The move to militarize the country’s health sector has been interpreted by observers as an attempt to control the health workers who have been striking frequently demanding better working conditions and remuneration.
In 2019, the doctors went on strike for more than four months and only resumed work after the intervention of a Zimbabwean billionaire. In March, doctors joined nurses who were on strike demanding Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Mupandasekwa recalled the August Pastoral Letter that was issued by members of Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) calling on President Mnangagwa-led government to address economic and political challenges bedeviling the country.
“When the Bishops questioned the capacity and emotional stability of the government, we were accused of insulting the President,” the 50-year-old Prelate recalled during his October 4 homily and added, “The governed are being insulted every day by the same people through these careless utterances and their total disregard of the constitution.”
He found the word of God proclaimed on Sunday relevant to the situation in Zimbabwe saying, “St. Paul in the second reading says even in the face of such lack of constitutionalism, there is no need to worry. Perhaps, he is inviting us to turn to God in prayers.”
“The Christian's primary response is prayer,” Bishop Mupandasekwa underscored, and implored, “We pray that God may change the hearts of our leaders. We pray that he may inspire them to do right. We pray that they may not bury their heads in the sand.”
He invited the members of his October 4 congregation to pray for President Mnangagwa-led Government to come to the realization that challenges the professionals in the country are facing are “negatively impacting the governed especially the vulnerable poor.”
“I wish I could tell St Paul that living for justice is dangerous for we live in a country that refuses to deliver justice,” Bishop Mupandasekwa said making reference to October 4 second reading.
He likened the Zimbabwean government’s handling of perceived critics to the tenants in Matthew’s Gospel who killed the landowner’s son saying, “This is the same response our people face when they think differently, when they cry for justice, when they ask for a living wage.”
“We live dear friends in a country now considered a fiefdom of a selected few. They decide the way and no one else. They are the police, the army and the judiciary. They are everything. To silence everyone, they instill fear in the governed,” the Bishop bemoaned.
He added, “When fear isn’t enough, the words of the tenants will be enough, ‘This is the heir, come let us kill him.’”
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