Zimbabwean police arrested more than a dozen nurses and union representatives protesting on Monday outside a hospital in the capital Harare to demand wage increases, the country’s largest nurses’ union said.
The protests come as the southern African country faces its worst economic crisis in more than a decade and its beleaguered health system battles a surge in coronavirus cases.
“At least 13 of our members and union leaders were arrested during the demonstration at Harare hospital,” Enock Dongo, president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association, told AFP.
“They are in police cells as we speak but we don’t know what charges they are facing,” he said, adding that the union was told the arrested would appear in court on Tuesday.
The union, which represents around 15,000 state nurses, last week called on members to strike over low pay at a time of galloping inflation.
At the protest held by scores of nurses on Monday, the healthcare workers bemoaned the effects a low salary has on their quality of life.
“The situation is terrible. We can’t afford to pay rent,” nurse Moses Sigauke told journalists.
He said an average nurse’s salary had eroded from US$800 in 2008 to the equivalent of US$35 currently.
One placard read, “No US dollar, no work”.
Another nurse Mike Chingau said “we are all stressed out”.
“We have become a danger to the patients we are supposed to look after.”
The country has recorded 716 COVID-19 cases including eight deaths so far, compared to 132 cases and four deaths at the end of May.
Zimbabwe’s nurses held a strike in March protesting the government’s failure to provide personal protective equipment for those on the frontlines of the coronavirus battle.
The country’s economy has been crippled by years of mismanagement and corruption under the late ex-president Robert Mugabe.
Since taking charge following a coup in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has vowed to improve the beleaguered economy.
But basic goods are scarce and the value of the Zimbabwean dollar has continued to tumble.