US diplomats urge Harvard to rescind Zimbabwe First Lady’s health award


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A group of retired US diplomats and civil society leaders has penned a letter of protest to Harvard University, after Auxillia Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s First Lady, picked up an award for contributions to healthcare in her country, where a huge doctors’ strike has brought medical services to a halt.

The letter was addressed to the heads of Harvard University and Harvard Global Health Catalyst.

“To be blunt, your well-intentioned work in these areas is tainted by the affiliation with Ms Mnangagwa and her direct personal connection to an increasingly corrupt and abusive administration in which tolerance for dissent is non-existent and democratic rights are routinely denied,” according to the letter signed by 14 former high-ranking US officials – including the past four US ambassadors to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s public sector doctors have been on a de facto strike, demanding their salaries be pegged to the US dollar as skyrocketing inflation is preventing them from having the means to eat or even get to work.

Dr Peter Magombeyi, the president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, was recently found after being abducted and tortured for five days for speaking out on the strike.

As of press time, he had been barred from leaving the country for additional medical treatment even though a high court ruled he was in his right to do so.

“While the case of Dr Magombeyi is indeed alarming, his order is only the latest in a raft of disappearances carried out in Zimbabwe, over the course of several decades, and since president Mnanagagwa took power in a military coup in November 2017,” according to the letter.

“The doctors have been on strike, their members are being attacked, intimidated. So this is a paradox – a tragedy that anybody can be given that award,” Rejoice Ngwenya, the executive director of a Harare-based think tank Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO), told RFI.

“It’s not the right time to be issuing out awards to do with healthcare in Zimbabwe, especially a politician, because there is a health crisis,” he added.

“Hospitals have no drugs, there’s barely any electricity, the water situation is bad, so it is questionable whether anybody in the political dynasty can receive an award.

“To add insult to injury, most ministers and the President and top officials, they go to Hong Kong or even South Africa for medical treatment,” said Ngwenya.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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