Healthcare professionals discover their voice

Robert Mugabe, pictured at a rally in 2008, took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.(Associated Press)

by SANDRA KUDENGA

THERE is a seismic shift in Zimbabwe’s political discourse. A critical segment of its population is beginning to find its voice – healthcare staff.

Doctors, nurses and psychotherapists have largely been treating, nursing and rehabilitating victims of the country’s savage politics in sworn silence.

And their victimization for caring for some of the victims of the violence that has characterized the southern African country’s political contestation since the 1970s has largely gone undocumented.

They are expected to only see patients in the people that come for their services, not fellow humans, because then they would begin to start asking questions.

But, even then, they have always been victims of Zimbabwe’s crude gamesmanship.

Internal political contestation should not breed enmity. Not for a country like ours with such a high literacy rate.

Things ought to always have stayed civil.

But then we now have a deep-seated culture of violence ingrained in our politics as Zimbabweans that needs healing.

It would be well to start with the truth.

Healthcare workers cared for the victims of the protracted war of liberation, the Gukurahundi massacres, the abductions and tortures that accompanied every opinion that was deemed divergent, the violence that was attendant to the land seizures, and the brutal suppression of opposition voices over the past two decades.

And it is just as well that through the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Nurses Association and Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), health professionals are beginning to speak out.

They are citizens too. They know the truth of their country and their opinions on civil and political rights whose victims they have been assisting should matter.

Medical training might not include tutorials on political science or civic education but growing up in a country with so much hate and violence is lesson enough.

Hundreds have been victimized over the years for giving their professional services to the ‘wrong’ people. In 2008, nurses across the country were targeted for abuse for attending to victims of political abuse.

Being healthcare professional in the countryside with an opposition party that was resonating well with the educated and urbanites meant being targets by a regime that thrived on disinformation. Hard to control, they had to be cowed through violence.

The many ‘crimes’ of health workers also includes demanding that enough resources be availed to effectively discharge their duties or for protesting the obscene disparity between a peace time defence ministry budget and a health ministry grappling with an HIV and AIDS epidemic and a plethora of other neglected tropical diseases.

While previously health professionals have been victimized individually and at times haunted out of their country with their professional representative bodies silent over matters deemed political the shift is welcome.

Not that it suddenly makes the working environment safer. But it’s a start.

If such a celebrated paediatric surgeon like Dr Bothwell Mbuwayesango – one of only three in the country and one who led the all-Zimbabwean team of doctors that separated co-joined twins in 2014 in an eight-hour operation could be victimized through suspension without pay then such a system as early as October 2019 supposedly under the second republic then no one can be safe.

It will take time to accommodate this new voice.

Its potential to expose the harrowing stories of abuse the country has been suffering over the years are obviously unsettling to politicians. They want monopoly on speaking for the ‘voiceless’.

The doctor who treated that amputated arm, the nurse who dressed that septic torture wound, the psychotherapist who counselled that rape victim and the woman whose husband was abducted and never found, should live and die with their stories.

Thank God, the genie is out of the bottle.

ZHDS former leader Dr Peter Magombeyi’s story of abduction and torture cannot be unheard. Dr Mbuwayesango’s experiences cannot be swept under the carpet anymore.

Zimbabwe’s over 60 years of institutionalized violence spared no one. Health professionals have been managing the trauma and being victimized for some of their efforts to ensure that everyone enjoys better health in the process.

Successive governments from the late Mr. Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, the late Mr. Robert Mugabe’s first republic and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s second republic have all been directly abusing their citizens and condoning their abuse by certain sections of the population.

Healthcare workers know the stories behind all the physical scars on Zimbabweans across the globe, they know the trauma behind the disturbed personality and they should be allowed to speak out to ensure that the problems are addressed at their root.

It might be difficult considering that Zimbabwe’s aging leaders and generals are themselves victims of violence having been trained to kill as children during the liberation war and never receiving any rehabilitation.

Healthcare professionals need not just be used to clean up after the country’s mad politics has played out but need to protected and engaged in dealing with the root causes of the violence.

And all those who have been victimized need all the support they can get. Once marked for abuse, the system rarely forgives and certainly never forgets.

The bravery health professionals are beginning to show in telling truth to power should never be allowed to die but needs nurturing to ensure that the truth of Zimbabwe’s troubled past is healed through a multisectoral approach in which health is a major factor.

Sandra Kudenga left Zimbabwe in 2002 at the back of victimisation by the late President Robert Mugabe’s regime. She is a professional with nursing experience skills currently living in the United Kingdom for the past 18 years and continues to be saddened, as a mother and sister to fellow Zimbabweans, by the continued victimisisation of her country folk for not being politically correct.

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