Economy crushes ‘festive season’ spirit in Zimbabwe

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Foreign currency shortages that triggered erratic supplies of basic commodities, inflation and an increase in the cost of living have made ordinary Zimbabweans an unhappy lot.

The World Happiness Index for 2018 puts Zimbabwe at 140 – down from 138 out of 155 countries in 2017. The unhappiness is evident even among some of the most educated and skilled workers in the country.

A fortnight ago, junior doctors downed tools citing an array of grievances ranging from poor remuneration to horrible working conditions. A spirited campaign by government to urge doctors to “put lives first” fell on deaf ears.

“People are dying in hospitals and I think it is important that ethics are put before everything else,” said finance minister Professor Mthuli Ncube.

Instead of heeding the call, senior doctors on Tuesday joined their juniors in the strike.

“We are therefore withdrawing our services with immediate effect. We hope that the situation will be resolved expeditiously so that we may resume providing our services normally and effectively,” doctors said in a media statement.

Most senior doctors are engaged in private practice and locum jobs outside government hospitals. As such they are dedicating their time to paying customers. There are only a few privileged clients but they pay in foreign currency.

“It makes sense to me because in January I will be forced to pay school fees for my son in foreign currency yet government pay me in the useless bond notes,” said one doctor.

Most medical aid associations, in renewing their subscribers’ cover in December, demanded payment in US dollars or an equivalent at a parallel market rate. Some companies have since withdrawn medical aid cover for their employees because of this demand.

“The decision of not renewing the contracts has been reached by the group members because the medical aid increased their tariffs and requires foreign currency funding which members or organisation do not have,” read a letter to Liberty Life.

While the doctors’ strike takes centre stage, a group of teachers have been walking around the country protesting against unfair treatment in the wake of an ailing economy. This week broader calls for a strike were raised by the whole civil service threatening to down tools as early as January if their demands for salaries to be paid in foreign currency or a massive pay increase were not met.