By Nelson Chamisa
Like many people in Zimbabwe and elsewhere around the world, I recently watched a video of Dr. Phophi Ramathuba, the Limpopo MEC for Health, as she spoke to a Zimbabwean patient seeking care in a hospital.
As I listened to my dear compatriot expressing gratitude to the MEC, I was filled with a deep sense of regret, sadness, and rage.
Her vulnerability reminded us of the real impact of poor leadership on the lives and dignity of our people. For me, it deepened my resolve to change it.
Like many other Zimbabweans who have had to shelter outside our borders, she did not want to be there. It was not her choice. She is there because her leaders, back at home, do not care about her.
She is not alone.
Zimbabwe has been a burden to her neighbours for far too long. It is time we changed this.
By the government’s own estimates, since this regime took power, people have left the country at a higher rate than at any time in our history. The national statistics agency recently released data showing that emigration reached a peak in 2021.
Nowhere is this exodus felt so strongly than in our critical health sector.
In the 12 months to March 2020, the UK took in 1059 Zimbabweans on that country’s skilled work visa. By 2022, that number had increased to 5549 visas to Zimbabweans for skilled work. Put in other terms, the number of skilled workers that have left Zimbabwe to work in other countries has gone up by 424% in just two years.
Zimbabwe is among the Top 5 recipients of these skilled visas to the UK. A country with a population of 15 million is in the same category with nations such as India – with its population of over a billion – in terms of exporting skills. We are losing skilled people more than countries that are at war.
Where are all these skilled people coming from? Many are coming out of our hospitals. Not only are they unable to feed their families, but they also have to face the emotional and psychological trauma of watching their patients die from what should be easily treatable ailments.
The human cost of failure
Our healthcare system fails the most basic tests.
The current doctor-to-patient ratio and nurse-to-patient ratio in Zimbabwe are depressing.
The last survey revealed 1.6 doctors per 10,000 people (23 doctors per 10,000 people is the W.H.O recommendation). Zimbabwe has 7.2 nurses per 10,000 people, which should be 83 per 10,000 people.
As I write, more than 700 children have been killed by measles, a disease that should not be afflicting us in this century. Our maternal mortality rate is 462 per 100 000 live births, one of the highest in the world. Our neonatal mortality rate is 31 deaths per 1 000 live births. This rate has not changed since 1988, showing the lack of progress in healthcare.
Recently, our hearts broke after seven babies were stillborn in one night at Harare Central Hospital, because their mothers did not get the care they needed in time.
There is a reason why our hospitals are in this state. We know why patients are crossing the borders to seek treatment in neighbouring countries. It is because of corruption, bad governance and poor leadership under ZANU PF misrule.
Millions were lost in COVID-19 procurement deals, and nobody was held accountable. The political elite gets treated overseas. This is who they are; they do not care for ordinary people, like that woman in the Limpopo hospital. They care only for themselves.
More than a health crisis
Our crisis is not just a health crisis or an economic crisis. It is essentially a governance crisis. Nelson Mandela once said there was a “crisis of leadership in Zimbabwe”. The icon was right. We are facing the consequences today, and so is the entire region.
We have a plan to turn this around. We have a New Great Zimbabwe plan to build and transform Zimbabwe into greatness.
Zimbabwe is not poor. It is poorly led. It is simply a leadership crisis. And we will fix it.
The cartels that smuggle US$1.6 billion worth of gold from our country every year will be stopped. We will rededicate a larger proportion of our national budget to critical social services, and away from the overpriced vanity projects designed to oil corrupt cartels. We will increase the budget for health and ramp up support to our professionals.
We will treat our people at home, in our own first-class hospitals.
This all starts with solving the governance crisis, once and for all. We need reforms. We must PREPARE, and have a pre-election pact on electoral and political reforms.
Plea to SADC
Our call to our neighbours is this; we appreciate your benevolence and patience, but you should not have to carry this burden any longer than you already have.
Help us to hold credible elections. We are encouraged that President Cyril Ramaphosa has said the immigration crisis will be discussed at the regional level. Now, more strongly than ever, SADC must demand reforms. We do not ask for anything new; only that Zimbabwe hold elections that meet already existing SADC guidelines.
This, more than shaming the innocent victims of misrule, is what will solve the crisis.
Zimbabweans do not want to cross the borders for services or jobs. They do not want to be a burden. They have not chosen this life. They have not chosen their leaders. It is time they did.
Advocate Nelson Chamisa leads the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change