Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Survival of the biggest in Zimbabwe

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Harare’s many non-functioning traffic robots provide frequent opportunities for contemplating human nature. As a friend of mine was saying the other day as we tried to turn right at a busy, robot-down, intersection, why do so many of us move with a sense of rushed-ness and our own importance that somehow gets in the way of our own decency.

Of course, it’s never as simple as that. Through all the murk a few moments always stand out. The girl walking home from school who runs alongside me for a bit of a chat. The cyclist who smiles an apology when his bell gives me such a fright I jump clear into the bushes.

But some days those gems feel more the exception than the rule. Watching the traffic at another intersection on my run the other night, I thought to myself, “it’s survival of the biggest.” The pushiest, largest, flashiest 4x4s muscle their way into the intersection however they so choose. And the rest of the traffic just has to comply.

It reminded me of what someone had been telling me earlier that day. She works as a nurse and does the rounds of Harare’s government hospitals. Zimbabwe’s health sector has drastically deteriorated in recent years, and it is not uncommon for clinics and hospitals to lack even the most basic of medications and supplies.

According to this nurse, however, this isn’t because the hospitals lack the foreign currency to import these items, or because of a lack of donations from well-intentioned foreigners. Zimbabwe’s government hospital doctors are severely underpaid. Many also maintain a private practise where they can see patients separately from the hospital, and charge more for these visits. The nurse I met claims that these doctors take the supplies from the hospital shelves and sell them to the patients they see in their own practise.

It’s a serious allegation which needs to be further substantiated. The hospitals’ empty shelves may well be a combination of fewer goods in the first place, since the hospitals can’t afford the foreign currency to import what they have to. And those doctors who can get away with it might well be skimming off medications to resell and top up their meager income. If that it is the case, it’s the traffic robot scenario all over again – if you’re wealthy enough to afford private health care, chances are you’re wealthy enough to pay for marked up medication as well. And if you’re not? You’re left to sit in the car park outside the hospital untreated. The chefs get smugger. But what’s the outcome for the rest of the population?

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