Harare’s hospitals microcosm of decay

By Bill Saidi

IN 1960, I was treated at Harare Hospital for an ugly gash on the head, the result of a stone thrown at me as I fled from what used to be called a house of ill-repute.




I was a reporter and reporters can venture in such places for only one reason: a good story. Obviously, if I were a regular client I would not have been chased away by stone-throwing thugs, unless I had not paid for the services. In my case, it was just a good story I was after.


But my treatment at Harare Hospital, still new and staffed by the most beautiful nurses in the country, was so thorough I sincerely believed both the doctor and the nurses were being very personal. I went back to Harare Hospital a few months later, this time to be treated for lacerations on my face, the result of a fall after an assault. I will not go into details, but I was not, I swear, coming from a house of ill-repute this time.


The treatment this time was even more royal than before.


After Independence, I was injured in a very serious motorcar accident on the way from Chihota communal lands. I was ferried to Harare Hospital, but after a few hours there without being attended to, I demanded to be transferred to Parirenyatwa Hospital. The atmosphere of inattention was palpable at Harare, with nurses and orderlies treating you as if you were a thorough nuisance to their routine, which seemed to consist of gossiping.

Things were better at Parirenyatwa, but not as good as in 1980 when it was called Andrew Fleming. But back in 1949, I was treated at the Salisbury African native hospital, now Harare Hospital.


I had almost lost my right arm in a stupid bicycle accident at Mai Musodzi Hall in Harare township.


A Good Samaritan, persuaded by my aunt to take on the mission of mercy for no reward, carried me on his bicycle all the way to the hospital, a very long distance, made even tougher by the heavy load of a wailing, whining kid with a broken arm.


My arm was put in plaster, which lasted until my final examinations for Standard Three at what is now Chitsere School.


Salisbury hospital was of course heavily segregated then. I was treated in the native section which, inevitably, had inferior facilities and equipment to the white section.


In 1980, I entered Andrew Fleming hospital with a broken leg, having been knocked down by a vehicle driven by a Central Intelligence Organisation agent.


I spent six wonderful weeks in the hospital, with people who really cared about their work, most of them black too. I renewed old friendships and met new friends. Andrew Fleming hospital was then relatively new and most of the facilities would have matched any of those at the white section of the old Salisbury hospital.


Recently, I have read of both hospitals facing crises. I was not surprised. How could these huge hospitals fare any better than any other big or small health facility in the land?


In fact, how could these two great and historic places of healing escape the wave of neglect that has swept across the country for the last 25 years? Roads, schools, hospitals, clinics, prisons, government offices, municipalities, post offices, police stations, big and small businesses, markets — mini or super: they have all felt the enormous pinch of an economic decline which seems destined to last until God or Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono waves the magic wand to end it all.


Harare and Parirenyatwa hospitals are but a microcosm of the decline. Yes, there are patches of success here and there, but these are so few and far between only the regular Pollyannas could swear that things are not as bad as they seem.


For many ordinary, average Zimbabweans, things are so bad there is no way they could get worse. The pessimists insist they will get worse if the present crowd remains in power.


I have been to Harare and Parirenyatwa hospitals a number of times since 1980, often to observe at first-hand a friend or a relative dying of complications brought on by HIV/Aids. These were not pretty sights and I came away each time wondering if this was not the beginning of the end of the world.


But the hospitals’ decline struck me as almost inexorable, as incurable as the deadly scourge which has attached itself to the body of the nation, like a voracious leech, sucking out its blood.


Every year since Independence, the Health ministry budget has increased, but the health delivery system has declined just as rapidly.


The truth is that even the Education ministry’s share of the budget has increased, but the standards in our schools, the quality of the teachers and the facilities in general have continued to decline — and the cost for most parents has shot through the roof.


One Finance minister once described our economy as being in crisis. It is still in crisis, as we approach a parliamentary election that ought to give the voters an opportunity to signify their dissatisfaction with the disastrous performance of the government.


The government, even without the dubious and quite often sassy talent for spin-doctoring of Jonathan Moyo, sticks to its old litany: if things are bad, British premier Tony Blair is to blame. Vote against Blair by voting for Zanu PF — and things will improve. What nonsense.


Colonialism stripped the people of their dignity everywhere in Africa after the “Scramble for Africa”.


After the bloody struggles against colonialism and the victory of the people, their dignity was restored. Unfortunately, in most African countries, this restoration was almost transient, a flitting moment of glory soon smothered in the greed and corruption of the leaders.


Zimbabwe has fared no better. Today, a Zimbabwean who insists his dignity is as solid as it was in 1980 would be indulging in the worst form of self-delusion.


Our dignity was restored in full in 1980, but when people began to fear their own government, their own army and their police force — worse than they feared the same forces during colonialism — they felt diminished in stature, stripped of some of their dignity.


Many Africans feel the same sense of deprivation. Not one of them would proclaim that colonialism was better and should return.


But most would do everything in their power to remove the cause of their humiliation in the land of their birth. In a few countries, their frustration has boiled over into violence.


In others, they have used the ballot to remove the cause of their frustration.

In these countries, a sense of achievement has been observed, as people started walking tall again, their dignity restored, albeit for that glorious, delicious moment of conquest.


*Bill Saidi is editor of the closed Daily News on Sunday.

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