Doctors and medical staff march to Zimbabwe's parliament on September 19 2019 in Harare with a petition demanding the safe return of Dr Peter Magombeyi. Picture: AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA
Doctors and medical staff march to Zimbabwe's parliament on September 19 2019 in Harare with a petition demanding the safe return of Dr Peter Magombeyi. Picture: AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

Harare — Zimbabwe’s doctors on Thursday marched in the capital Harare to protest against the abduction of their  colleague, as the country’s public hospitals continue to be paralysed by a health workers’ strike.

Dr Peter Magombeyi, leader of a workers union that has been pushing for a pay hike for doctors, was abducted on Saturday and has not been seen since. His colleagues say Magombeyi was captured by state agents that wanted to silence the medical practitioners for making the pay demands.

Magombeyi joins a growing list of high-profile trade unionists, opposition politicians and civic organisation leaders to be abducted, beaten up and intimidated. While most are found beaten up and dumped by the wayside, some, such as MDC politician Itai Dzamara, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2015, have never been found.

The doctors’ application for a protest march on Wednesday was disallowed by police. They took the refusal to court and a ruling allowed them to demonstrate on Thursday. They marched in Harare’s CBD  holding  placards written: “No Peter, No Work” and “Bring Peter Back” before they presented a petition to parliament.

In the petition, the doctors blamed the government for the abduction, saying prior to his disappearance, Magombeyi had been harassed and threatened by state agents.

“We therefore demand the immediate, unconditional and safe return of Dr Magombeyi. We would also like to mention that we, as health professionals, are being threatened by state security elements; both nurses and doctors are regularly being told that resisting what the government offers them will result in their deaths,” read the petition.

The doctors also painted a catastrophic picture of the public health system saying they face challenges in doing their work as hospitals are short of basic equipment and medicines. At the country’s main referral medical centre, Parirenyatwa General Hospital in Harare, the public health delivery system has ground to a halt.

In the absence of the doctors and some nurses, who also joined the strike, patients were being treated by trainee nurses while the few doctors who did not take part in the strike were overwhelmed by the large number of patients.

This week, the government said it had sought emergency services from the military forces to run public hospitals owing to the crippling doctors’ strike.

The state has also denied involvement in the abduction, blaming a “third force” of unnamed government enemies that reportedly want to paint President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration in bad light.

Rights groups say that since January, more than 50 trade union leaders and opposition activists suspected of planning anti-government protests have been abducted and tortured.