Government spokesman Ndavaningi Mangwana has sparked fury after appearing to suggest that doctors hostile to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime are killing government officials admitted at Zimbabwean hospitals.
Four cabinet ministers and dozens of other government officials have died as the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm Zimbabwe’s creaking health sector, weighed down by years of under-investment including poorly paid health workers.
In comments made on Twitter, Mangwana claimed there were “medical assassins” working in the health sector, providing no evidence other than citing “an unfortunate conspiracy theory.”
The Senior Hospital Doctors Association called Mangwana’s claims “regrettable” and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights warned that “the continuous persecution of medical practitioners is likely to destabilise the health sector.”
The Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association added: “The accusations are quite unfortunate and worrisome… We call upon everyone to refrain from inflammatory talk that has potential to demoralise the resilient frontliners who are obviously working very hard to contain and mitigate against the virus.”
Mangwana responded to a Twitter user who claimed that some of Zimbabwe’s doctors “are acting like Josef Mengeles, no ethics.” The individual, using the name Big Energy, asked Mangwana to “deal with the issue”, adding: “How do we trust buggers who threaten to withdraw oxygen based on party one supports? Show my tweet to the General (health minister and vice president Constantino Chiwenga), he will sort it.”
Mengele was a German army officer and physician who performed experiments on Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, killing thousands. It was not clear which doctor has threatened to pull oxygen on Zanu PF officials.
Mangwana responded: “I followed that. This is what’s leading to the unfortunate conspiracy theory that there are certain political players being eliminated in hospitals by political activists hiding behind medical qualifications.”
In a follow-up tweet, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information added: “Not just political players but medical assassins.”
The Senior Hospital Doctors Association said its members observed “high levels of ethics and professionalism.”
“Such a serious allegation from a high office is regrettable,” the doctors said in a statement, noting that elsewhere around the world “governments have gone out of their way to celebrate and support their health workers who are putting their live on the line to provide care in the face of this deadly virus.”
Four doctors have died since the virus was first detected in Zimbabwe in March last year, the senior doctors said.
Lenon Gwaunza, a medical doctor and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s medical school tweeted: “Zimbabwean doctors should be the worst paid assassins in history.”
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights urged the government to utilise a complaint mechanism available through the Medical and Dental Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe, which regulates the profession.
Mangwana, speaking to ZimLive, insisted he had said nothing wrong.
“My comments are very clear that it’s an unfortunate conspiracy theory. Do I need to explain an unfortunate conspiracy theory?” he asked.
Coronavirus deaths breached the 1,000 mark on Sunday following the death of 31 more people. There were 313 new infections reported by the ministry of health, taking the total cases to date to 31,320 of which 1,005 have resulted in death.