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  • Interview with Primrose Matambanadzo, Programme Coordinator, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights
    Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
    July 29, 2009

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    Read Inside/Out with Primrose Matambanadzo

    Primrose MatambanadzoWhy was Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights formed?

    A group of doctors got together and said there's not enough of a response from doctors who will attend to someone who's been beaten up or tortured or raped in terms of the organized violence and torture that was going on in the beginning of the 2000s. So they said lets get together and form and organization of people who will advocate, who will encourage health professionals to treat people and speak out on their behalf.

    What does the organization try to accomplish and why?

    The vision is an end to violations of the Right to Health. That includes broad things around maternal health, child health and also torture. You may say what chance do we have of stopping torture? The idea is that the better people are treated when they have been tortured, the better it's documented, the better they are able to use that medical evidence to pursue redress; the less likely that it will continue to happen. People who think they can get away with it, will torture. In terms of how the health system functions, if you're trying to get health workers involved in the demand for better health rights I think that that gives the impetus to it as well.

    How successful have you been in getting UZ medical graduates to come and be involved in Human Rights issues?

    I think we're becoming increasingly successful in trying to get medical students involved. Because it's harder to change a persons mind whose been in that mindset and practicing medicine for ten or twenty years. We do training on health rights for medical students while they're still in medical school. There's a group now that's trying to form what they're calling Zimbabwe Health Students Network, so they can use the skills they're getting to train their peers as well. There are medical students now who are members of ZADHR and are actually actively helping with projects. There's some research going on right now, they're helping to undertake it. I think it's getting much better. ZADHR has also changed over time. Five years ago it was just a bunch of doctors, but now there are medical students, nurses, other health workers, lab scientists . . . so its getting better.

    How successful have you been in getting the current health institutions engaged?

    All public health institutions fall under the Ministry of Health so we're trying to target the Ministry in terms of lobbying for the improvement of the Health System and Rights Based Approaches to the Health System. I think it's been hard for us over the years to get a working relationship with the ministry, but it's improved over the past six months or so. We see improvement in terms of actually now being able to have a conversation with the director of a department, to start talking about having access to hospitals, public hospitals, central hospital, clinics, to try and monitor what's going on there. So for instance the project that we're looking at at the moment is about user fees and how it's impacting on access to health. For us to have permission from Ministry to go into the hospital and into the clinics to find out what's going on, and into communities, to see what they can afford, is an improvement.

    How did you get involved in Human Rights work?

    It was quite by accident. I was friends with somebody who was doing human rights work in 2000 during the elections, and I had a conversation with them and said I'd be also interest in getting involved. They said 'come along and help me out. 'It was quite a short term stint, it was a 3 month project that they were working on, but after that point I'd gotten interested in the field so I started looking for work in Human Rights and there was plenty of it at the time.

    What does being a Program Coordinator for ZADHR entail?

    I'm responsible in helping to lead and plan what ZADHR does: its direction, its programs, its projects, maybe developing new ideas for projects and overseeing the implementation.

    Do you have a medical background and how does that help or hinder you in your work?

    I don't have a medical background at all. I studied Political Science. So it was hindering in the beginning because I tried to get to grips with how the Health System works and it was a challenge. Its now not a big deal because I've gotten into it and we recently have gotten a medical person on staff, so if there's medical issues that we need clarification with, we have someone available.

    What would you say is the biggest challenge with regard to changing the mindset of the medical profession?

    A lot of the time [members of the] medical profession, they deal with each other on a collegial level, one doctor will respect the opinion of another doctor. It takes a lot more work to get them to listen to you, what you're saying because they feel you don't understand what practicing medicine is all about. Also I've found medical professionals to have a conservative approach. They just want to practice medicine, not to speak out about injustice. They often say 'I just want to treat the patient, isn't that enough?' So that's been the other thing. They don't by nature want to be advocates and to speak out, getting them to do that has been a big challenge.

    Can you give instances or examples of instances of the political violence that Zimbabwe has faced in the past six months?

    In the past six months people have gotten almost a false sense of security that things are sort of normal. In rural areas especially there seems to be some sort of low level campaigning activities by political parties already preparing for the next election. You do have people who are assaulted, tortured. Its just it's happening in lower numbers than it happened in lets say April, May, June last year. So then nobody really pays attention. You will get instances where one person is singled out, brought to a village meeting, assaulted, and tortured. Especially in areas famous for polarization like maybe Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe. Those cases are still happening right now. Listen

    What has ZADHR done to document/advocate or report on those instances of political violence?

    We've always tried, especially if there's high level violence, to make sure we highlight exactly what kind of cases, and the severity. So for instance, instead of saying 'look there's been 300 people tortured,' ZADHR has made statements or published reports that say this person has suffered this fracture and it may mean that they will never walk again - if that is the interpretation by the medical professional handling the case.

    What are some of the barriers in translating your reports into actual change?

    I think it's in being able to measure what impact in changing behaviors and attitudes those reports have had. It's hard to say what was the real impact, did it change anything or were we just screaming at the top of our lungs for nothing? I recently had an experience in April, speaking to a doctor who said 'you know I once read a statement and I thought I've been trying to avoid patients coming to my surgery who've had this experience and then I thought twice about. I thought I shouldn't really be doing that.' So that was quite a small change and it happened in a small town. I'd love to be able to know if we have a massive impact with statements and reports and doing interviews and things like that. But I'm quite satisfied with just knowing one or two that make me know that it does achieve some change. Listen

    What would you say was the lowest point for you as a human rights worker?

    The lowest point was in 2008. I was feeling like nothing is ever going to give. At that time it was such brute force and so many lives were lost. It was not very abstract, it was people I knew, people that I'd met before, and then to suddenly wake up and that person's body has been found decomposed somewhere, it was very difficult. That was also mirrored by really hard economic times. I don't like to be a sissy but, you know, I do like water coming out of my tap, and it's nice to be able to get bread sometimes. At the same time it was taking a lot of energy to just run my normal life, always running around fetching water, always trying to make your own food. And then at the same time work-wise there was a lot of depressing things going on, a lot of brutal things, and I didn't really have a lot of hope. I've always said to people 'I'm one of those people who wants to switch off the lights...the day the country finally shuts down I'll be here.' But that was the first time I thought 'maybe I'll just leave, it's so depressing, this is never going to change and we do all this work and it achieves nothing.' So I really had some quite low times in 2008.

    How did you recover from that? Or was there something that happened that made you recover from that?

    By deciding in the end to stay. It's hard when some of your friends who have stayed in the country say goodbye and they leave. It was very tempting. There are the amazing, beautiful things about Zimbabwe but it was still hard. Then I thought . . . 'you know what, I know how to make a loaf of bread . . . you think the person in London knows how to make a good loaf of bread or some garlic rolls?' I started trying to look for some positive things even in this nonsense? Nobody agreed with the political agreement in September, I didn't either, but I said 'you know what, maybe its good to have the battle ground a little bit different.' I felt encouraged by that. I said, 'it's a disaster, but it's a different kind of disaster and it may create some space in which we can work better.' So I have to say that as much as people say that its terrible that I felt it, I was happy with the Inclusive Government and its one of the things that restored my hope and I was like 'we can work in a different kind of setting, the work may not change, but something's going to get better.'

    Since September has the GNU being in place changed your work in anyway?

    I think it's definitely changed our work. We work on health rights generally and then we look at torture issues as part of our main focus. For a long time we wanted to look at broader health issues, but there was such intense violence, you couldn't. But now that the levels are a little bit better, you can start to think about what the state of the health system is. Whether people are able to access health, the determinants of health, trying to see if we can address issues of health like water and sanitation that cause diseases like the cholera. You can start to think about other things. And so for me the nature of the work has changed, because you can think a bit more broadly. I don't think we're safe and sound and the things we have been working on for the last decade have gone away. But definitely there are things we wanted to do that we haven't been able to do, that we now are suddenly able to do because the context is a little bit different.

    Do you feel that a lot is said and very little is done by the GNU?

    I do feel that a whole lot is said and very little done. Maybe the discussion or the debate should be about why that is. There are a lot of things that they say and they know. So for instance if we look at Cholera and the Ministry Of Health says 'yes we know that water hasn't been sorted out and sanitation hasn't been sorted out' . . . well then stop fighting about MPs cars and say lets put every penny into making sure there's proper sanitation. I feel that there's too much bickering on issues of self-enrichment for me to believe that there's enough commitment to actually make things happen.

    Do you think the recent National Healing exercise was effective?

    Of course not. You don't just slap three days on a calendar and say 'now the nation shall begin healing.' It's a massive and intensive exercise that should be driven by the people who are most affected. Right now its being driven by politicians who just want to say 'we went through a process of national healing.' A lot of people that you speak to also what some justice; and that's the truth. Or if there's going to be forgiveness they want people to be able to acknowledge what happened: 'What did you do to my sister? Where is she; where is her body?' before we can move on, and that's not happening yet.

    There are reports that violence is continuing, whilst others argue that poltical violence is continuing in Zimbabwe. What is your take on the current levels of violence in Zimbabwe?

    I think it makes people angry to hear others saying that things are now better because the violence is less. I get the point people are making - the prevelance is less, that's just a fact. But it always has been this way. If you're not in election mode in Zimbabwe, the levels of violence tends to decrese. But the problem is that they remain. That is not normal society. There shouldn't be even low level violence. Somebody out there has still been tortured last week, someone has still been abducted last week. It has to stop being okay. The impunity that makes even low level violence okay has to be stopped. Someone can't even be comforted by the violence being less, because they are wondering when the next big surge in violence is going to be. Listen

    What are ZADHRs thoughts moving into the Constitutional reform process and the new elections?

    Everybody knows its flawed, everybody knows its not really in the strict sense of the phrase people driven. But our position is: what can be done to get the most out of it? The thinking we have is that you may need to do a process like this at a later time in Zimbabwe when there isn't so much at stake politically. So what is the best we can get now, but the thing is we want a solid bill of rights and separation of powers that will protect the rule of law.

    What do you suggest ordinary people do to become involved in preventing Human Rights abuses in their communities?

    It's easier to say than to do. It's about not tolerating it isn't it? Whether its through speaking out or communities figuring out a way to have protection systems for each other when these things are going on but it has to be something that is active. If you let it happen quietly, if you don't stand up against it in some way, and you have to figure out the best way that each community can stand up against it, then it continues to happen. If someone can continue to get away with something they will continue to do it.

    Are the levels of incidence of perpetration of violence against people equal on both sides or is it just ZANU PF?

    This is a very personal opinion; I haven't done any studies on this. My experience in trying to monitor organized violence and torture has shown me that it's never exclusively one party; both parties have been involved. Both parties have been guilty of political violence and of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people. The reason why its always said to be ZANU PF responsible is because I think they have better machinery for it, they have more resources. So they do it on a much larger scale and much more intensively. But the MDC can't say its hands are completely clean. That's not true.

    Audio File

    • Violence
      Language: English
      Duration: 53sec
      Date: July 29, 2009
      File Type: MP3
      Size: 828KB

    • Making a difference
      Language: English
      Duration: 1min 23sec
      Date: July 29, 2009
      File Type: MP3
      Size: 1.26MB

    • Impunity
      Language: English
      Duration: 54sec
      Date: July 29, 2009
      File Type: MP3
      Size: 847KB

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