By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) – Teachers, doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe began a strike over unpaid salaries on Tuesday, a day after police used force against protesting taxi drivers in the capital, Harare, as the country’s economy deteriorates.
Zimbabwe is battling its worst drought in a quarter of a century, while the economy is beset by cash shortages, prompting small, spontaneous protests over the past month. Monday’s protests were the first to turn violent since 2005.
President Robert Mugabe has used the police to keep a lid on the protests, but Amnesty International said their response on Monday amounted to a violation of Zimbabweans’ human rights.
Police deployed again on Tuesday in two of the townships that saw violence on Monday, but the situation was calmer. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said law enforcement agents were on high alert and had arrested 95 people over Monday’s violence.
At Zimbabwe’s two largest state hospitals, Parirenyatwa and Harare Central, non-critical patients were told to come back next week because junior doctors and nurses were on strike, leaving only senior staff to work, Reuters witnesses said.
“The issue is that doctors cannot come to work because they have not been paid. It looks like this (strike) will go on until July 14,” the head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, Fortune Nyamande, said.
The government has said it will pay doctors and nurses their June salaries on July 14 and the teachers on July 7. It has also delayed paying the June salaries of the army and security services by two weeks.
At most state schools around Harare, students could be seen playing at sports fields in the morning because teachers did not come to work. School heads, who are not allowed to strike under Zimbabwe’s labor laws, reported for duty.
Acting Labour Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said workers had not notified the government about the strike action but added the state was ready to talk to them about their grievances.
Without balance of payment support from the International Monetary Fund or foreign credit from traditional Western donors, Harare runs a hand-to-mouth budget, spending 82 percent of its revenue on wages, which it is struggling to pay.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in London on Monday he hoped multilateral lenders would sign a deal for Zimbabwe to clear its arrears by December, opening the door to possible new funding, the first since 1999.
A social movement called #ThisFlag, launched in April by a young pastor in Harare, has called for a national stay-away day on Wednesday “to shut down the country” in protest against alleged government failures.
In response, Charamba described the stay-away call as the work of criminal elements trying to incite the public, adding that “police will be deployed to ensure safe passage to work.”
(Editing by James Macharia, Larry King)