Doctors in Zimbabwe, southern Africa, have won big concessions from the government after a strike lasting over a month. They fought not only for better pay, but also for better patient care. Zimbabwe's health service is in crisis. The government's pro-market policies and its attempts to cut back on welfare mean the most basic equipment is in short supply.
Patients have to pay for treatment and drugs. This is particularly cruel in a country where one in four adults are HIV positive. Patients frequently die needlessly and blood transfusions are restricted to those who can afford the high price.
At the end of September 400 junior doctors refused to work. They demanded a rise in their salaries (presently £240 a month) and better hospital conditions. Most qualified doctors joined the action a fortnight later. Nurses and radiologists were preparing to get involved in the campaign when President Mugabe's government caved in and accepted many of the doctors' demands.
However, all of Zimbabwe's unions are gearing up for a battle against the proposed AIDS levy. The government wants to raise workers' tax by 3 percent to fund extra AIDS care. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the equivalent of the British TUC, agrees that extra funding is needed, but that it should come from reducing the military budget and taxing the rich. ZCTU assistant secretary Nicholas Mud zengerere said, 'The government can spend millions on a war in the Congo, but refuses to help its own people to survive. 'Why is the military budget much bigger than the health budget? This government has got its priorities wrong and our members are saying that they are ready to use any methods to defend their living standards.'
Further pressure on President Mugabe came last week as combatants who had fought against the white minority regime of Ian Smith vowed to take over land which is owned by top government officials, business people and some high court judges. The Marula estates in Matabeleland South were given on five year leases to ruling class figures earlier this year after they were taken from rich whites. Now the lease has been extended by 99 years. The landowners include three top ministers.