A Zimbabwean government spokesman who accused doctors of being “medical assassins” after four ministers died of coronavirus has sparked outrage in a country buckling under the Covid pandemic.
The government’s information secretary, Nick Mangwana, on Sunday claimed on Twitter that doctors in public hospitals were “political assassins hiding behind medical qualifications.”
Four cabinet ministers and numerous state officials from the ruling ZANU-PF party have died from the coronavirus as Zimbabwe’s decrepit health system battles a new wave of infections.
The landlocked southern African country has recorded nearly 32,000 Covid cases, of which more than 1,000 have been fatal.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said Mangwana’s remarks were amounted to “continuous persecution of medical practitioners” which was likely to destabilise the health sector.
Itai Rusike, an activist with a coalition of organisations called the Community Working Group of Health, said “uninformed allegations” carried “serious political connotations and (a) security threat” for medics.
Zimbabwe’s Senior Hospital Doctors Association termed Mangwana’s remarks “regrettable.”
Responding to the backlash, Mangwana said the tweet was his personal view and he “had no intention to offend any doctor or call any of them names.”
“Since it has caused such offence, I withdraw it and apologise for any offence caused,” he tweeted Monday, after deleting the offending posts.
Norman Marara of ZADHR told AFP that while the apology was accepted, “it is not enough.”
“The government must be seen to be applauding our efforts and positive role played by frontline health workers in this Covid-19 crisis,” Marara said.
Public anger has grown over failed promises to boost Zimbabwe’s economy after former leader Robert Mugabe was toppled in November 2017.
Frustration has grown with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaigners have welcomed coronavirus restrictions on travel that have forced government officials to gain first-hand experience of Zimbabwe’s struggling health system.
Public hospitals are struggling with a shortage of drugs and other resources bought with hard currency, and many top doctors and nurses have gone abroad to work.