NEW Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga has threatened striking doctors with detention if they do not go back to work, the Zimbabwe Independent has been told.
General Chiwenga yesterday took over at Defence House from General Vitalis Zvinavashe who has retired from the force.
The former Zanla guerilla chief chaired a meeting between Health minister David Parirenyatwa and three Hospital Doctors Association (HDA) members on December 22. The meeting, described as tense, was held at Parirenyatwa’s office at Mukwati Building. The minister who called the doctors to the meeting introduced them to Chiwenga whom he said was going to chair the meeting.
Parirenyatwa yesterday confirmed that Chiwenga was part of the meeting in question but denied that he threatened the doctors.
“General Chiwenga attended the meeting I had with the HDA,” Parirenyatwa said.
Asked in what capacity the general had attended the meeting, he said Chiwenga was a concerned party.
“You are well aware that army doctors are helping in the hospitals so naturally he is concerned like anyone else. He was merely appealing to the doctors to go back to work,” he said.
However, sources close to the meeting said Chiwenga, who was in an uncompromising mood, ordered the doctors back to work.
“We want to leave this meet-ing with an agreement,” Chiwenga is reported to have told the doctors.
“If you refuse to co-operate we can take you to the army barracks and detain you and you will see what will happen,” he said.
“I have fought 45 battles since I was 17 years old and I have never lost. This one is just a cup of tea and we can solve it within a matter of minutes,” he said.
Junior medical doctors embarked on industrial action two months ago, while medical specialists and nurses from major public hospitals have been on strike for over a month.
Sources privy to the meeting told the Independent that Chiwenga even offered to give the doctors millions of dollars.
“Chiwenga told the HDA members that he was prepared to fork out $70 million from his own pocket to be shared amongst all the striking doctors,” a source said.
The money was supposed to be shared among the more than 120 doctors who have embarked on the industrial action.
The crisis deepened last month when the Public Service Commission tried to use the legal route to force the doctors back to work. This failed when seven HDA members were acquitted in the magistrates’ court.
Chiwenga told the doctors at the meeting that the acquittal was academic.
“You are going to town over the court decision. I am sorry to inform you that we do not respect that ruling. We are the ones who are in power and we can choose to ignore that ruling. Court order or not we rule this country,” Chiwenga was reported as saying.
At the end of the meeting, Chiwenga said he was giving the doctors 24 hours to go back to work but this call has been ignored as the doctors have resolved to press on with their industrial action.