Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe left the country for medical checks in Singapore, days ahead of a planned Monday strike by civil servants who will join state health workers who walked out of hospital wards two weeks ago.
Mugabe’s spokesperson told state media the 93 year old leader left for “a scheduled medical review” in Singapore early yesterday.
The southeast Asian island city state hosts Mugabe’s preferred infirmary amid increased speculation about his health, which remains a tightly guarded secret.
Zimbabwe’s sole leader since independence in 1980, frequently dismisses speculation about his health and has responded to calls for his retirement by announcing another run in next year’s presidential poll.
As Mugabe flew out, his government was scurrying to contain growing discontent within the state workforce.
Doctors in Zimbabwe’s state hospitals went on strike on 15 February, to press for more pay and in protest against poor working conditions.
The doctors’ job action was this week joined by nurses at public hospitals, who walked out of work to push for 2016 bonus payments and to push for improved working conditions.
The strike by health workers has paralysed service at under-staffed state medical facilities, already groaning under the burden of poor funding from government.
Teachers, who make up the bulk of the civil service, have warned they will join the strike on Monday, if the government does not set dates for the payment of the 2016 bonuses.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who twice tried to scrap the bonus only to be publicly embarrassed by Mugabe, will now have to deal with a problem he thought he had fixed, in the absence of the boss who gainsaid him and kept it alive.
Chinamasa, faced with a mounting budget deficit which reached $1.2 billion in 2016, unsuccessfully pushed for various reforms — including canning the 13th cheque for two years — to reduce a government wage bill which gobbles up 90 percent of total revenue.
The state has been struggling to pay its workers’ basic pay, let alone meet a 13th cheque entitlement.
Mugabe, who called Chinamasa’s proposals ‘disgusting’, has not proffered clues on how the funds would be raised, but has maintained a conspicuous silence as civil servants clamour for the bonus payments.
Mugabe has not publicly addressed the doctors’ strike.
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