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Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles
with Primrose Matambanadzo, Programme Coordinator, Zimbabwe Association
of Doctors for Human Rights
July 29, 2009
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with Primrose Matambanadzo
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.
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.
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.
successful have you been in getting the current health institutions
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
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.
does being a Program Coordinator for ZADHR entail?
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.
have a medical background and how does that help or hinder you in
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.
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.
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.
has ZADHR done to document/advocate or report on those instances
of political violence?
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.
are some of the barriers in translating your reports into actual
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.
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.
did you recover from that? Or was there something that happened
that made you recover from that?
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
are ZADHRs thoughts moving into the Constitutional
reform process and the new elections?
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.
do you suggest ordinary people do to become involved in preventing
Human Rights abuses in their communities?
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
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
Date: July 29, 2009
File Type: MP3
Duration: 1min 23sec
Date: July 29, 2009
File Type: MP3
Date: July 29, 2009
File Type: MP3
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