Striking doctors in Zimbabwe protest abduction of union president

Peter Mogombeyi, President of ZHDA which is leading the ongoing strike, was kidnapped on Saturday night by three people suspected to be state security agents

September 17, 2019 by Pavan Kulkarni
Government doctors in Zimbabwe strike against the loss in the value of their wages. Photo: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds doctors took to the streets in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare yesterday, demanding the immediate appearance of president of the Zimbabwean Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombeyi. Magombeyi is believed to have been abducted by the state security agents.

While raising the slogans “no Peter, no work” and “bring back Peter”, doctors marched to the office of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. However, the rally was stopped by riot police, who only allowed some leaders to pass through the barricade and deliver a petition to the president demanding that he be released.

Doctors from numerous public hospitals who are organized by ZHDA have been on an indefinite strike since September 3 to demand that the value of their salaries be restored. Since payment of wages in USD was abandoned and RTGS was introduced last year, the salaries of doctors and other civil servants has been reduced to 10% of their initial values.

The wages of the lowest paid doctors has reduced from USD equivalent of $475 to $40. Doctors have denounced that the low wages are incapacitating especially given that the price of fuel is increasing multifold. They have said that their wages are not sufficient to afford the costs of travel to work on a daily basis.

Soon after the strike action began, Peter Magombeyi received a number of threats of abduction on phone. One of the text messages he received had warned him, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Carry on the way you are acting and you will be abducted. We are getting close now.”

On Saturday night, around 10pm, Magombeyi was abducted by three men believed to be agents of state security. At 22:19, he messaged on the ZHDA Junior Doctors WhatsApp group that he was “Kidnapped by 3 men.”  Since then, all efforts by the union to reach him have failed.

Death threats and abduction of union leaders has becoming increasingly common in Zimbabwe as the government, unable to resolve the economic crisis, is increasingly shifting the burden of its policy failures on the working class by eating into their wages in the name of fiscal discipline.

Following a successful three-day strike in June by teachers who are suffering a similar fate, Obert Masaraure, the president of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) which led the strike, was abducted by armed men, who, after stripping him naked and torturing him for hours, abandoned him in a bush.

The police, instead of investigating his complaint and arresting the kidnappers, “are harassing me for lodging a complaint,” he told Peoples Dispatch following the incident. Due to his involvement in the labour protests and strikes in January following the 150% fuel price hikes, he was arrested charged with treason. He is now out on bail and continues to attend trials.

The Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Japhet Moyo and President of ZCTU Peter Mutasa have also been charged with treason and have also received numerous death threats. Both trade union leaders have complained multiple times to the police about the threats and provided the phone numbers where the threats have come from but they have not advanced in finding the criminals. Moyo stated that every telephone number in Zimbabwe is registered and that if the police wanted to, it would not be difficult to find the owner.

Last month, eNCA reported that since the protest planned by the centrist opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was stopped by authorities, at least four of leaders have been abducted.

The systematic nature of these abductions, and inaction of the police are strengthening the suspicions that the abductions are being carried out by state security agents. The BBC reported the police suggesting that the latest abduction of Magombeyi may have been a ploy to bring disrepute to the state.

Magombeyi’s sister filed a habeas corpus application in the High Court, which is filed to secure the release of a person who is unlawfully imprisoned or detained by the official state security apparatus. The admission of this application would appear to indicate an acknowledgement by court of the likelihood that state agents are involved in his abduction.

After hearing her lawyer’s argument, the High Court judge ordered the Home Affairs and State Security Ministers to set up a team of investigators to determine his whereabouts and to rescue him.