Editorial Comment: A sick brand of politics

This week we were reminded of Gore Vidal, the American essayist who died back in 2012 and was referred to by some as the Oscar Wilde of his generation.

In a public career spanning decades, which included an unachieved ambition to be United States President, Vidal had plenty of occasion to unleash his acerbic tongue on the political classes with a turn of phrase many in political commentary can only aspire to.

It is Vidal who has been credited with the following witticism: “‘Politics’ is made up of two words, ‘poli’, which is Greek for ‘many’, and ‘tics’, which are blood-sucking insects.”

Politicians are easy to take pot shots at. By entering the public arena, they are offering themselves up to a life of power and criticism. Politicians themselves say nasty things about politicians.

Consider Ronald Reagan’s quip: “It’s been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”

We all know Reagan was not the sharpest tool in the shed, and one wonders if he came up with that one all on his own. Either way, it was an incisive commentary on the state of politics not just in the United States, but indeed across much of the world.

The reality is that we should not expect sainthood from politicians. That is what the church was created for.

But that said, sometimes the level of bloodsucking cannot go unchallenged and unpunished. A little bit of background.

Last week, central Government, the Health Services Board and the Zimbabwe Nurses Association were engaged in discussions over working conditions.

Nurses said they had been promised so much for so long, without anything ever materialising, that they could not continue working under the circumstances. Government pointed out that the grievances being raised were a legacy issue, dating back to the previous regime and that the new administration should surely not be cursed unto the fourth generation because of the sins of the father.

Regardless, Government said it inherited the grievances and would deal with them. It promptly released more than $17 million to be paid to striking nurses, and said they must return to work because people were dying.

Most of the nurses did not return to work. Government made a decision: it fired all non-compliant nurses and directed the Health Services Board to fill the posts with the thousands of trained nurses who have for years been searching for jobs. The mass dismissal was in terms of Section 58(i)(c)(ii) of Health Services Regulations (Statutory Instrument 117 of 2006). Further, a Labour Notice gazetted as Statutory Instrument 137 /2003 categorises nurses as “essential service providers” who cannot suddenly stop working – simply because people will die.

So we have to ask ourselves: why did the Zimbabwe Nurses Association direct its members to allow people to die?

Surely, if the association was genuine in its engagement, it would have directed the membership to return to work when the $17 million was availed.

Assuredly, if the Zimbabwe Nurses Association was truly representative of the profession and its members, it would not have embarked on such a ruinous route. And most certainly, if the association was really interested in progress, it would have since tried to re-engage Government and set about making things right.

Instead, the leadership of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association is agitating for war, even as its members tell them that they simply want their jobs back, treat people and access their share of the $17 million-plus. So what is the problem? Politics. Politicians have hijacked labour as they are wont to do and they will abuse and suck the blood out of professional nurses so that they further their self-centred agendas.

They will seek to build their political careers on the corpses of patients who could not access healthcare because the Zimbabwe Nurses Association allowed itself to be used by bloodsuckers.

What is one Doug Coltart going out of his way to convince nurses not to return to work? What is one Joice Mujuru’s objective when she goes and stands in solidarity with nurses who were fired because they heeded a political directive from their union leadership to abandon ill patients?

How come none of these politicians is standing in solidarity with dying patients? Because they hope to create a wave of labour unrest similar to that witnessed towards the end of the last millennium. They want to ride the crest of that anticipated wave well into elections.

Let’s face it: the opposition is in disarray and the only way they can envisage a favourable electoral outcome this year is by stoking public anger against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Government.

They cannot come up with a strategy to make voters like them; so instead they think they have come up with a strategy to make voters dislike Zanu-PF.

And all this at the expense of ill patients and ordinary nurses who – like all other Zimbabweans – genuinely want an improvement in their living conditions.

This is a brand of politics founded on blood and the bodies of innocent Zimbabweans.

It cannot be allowed to flourish with impunity.

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