'Found at the Avenues': The Harare clinic that treats injured activists

2016-11-25 08:28


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Harare - This is the plush Harare clinic where Zimbabwe's mamas-with-medical-insurance go to have their babies. It's also where beaten-up political activists often end up for treatment.

Patson Dzamara, brother to the missing activist Itai, was here last week after he was attacked by suspected agents of President Robert Mugabe's government.

US ambassador Harry K Thomas posted a pic of his bedside visit to this activist.

Said the ambassador in a tweet likely NOT to please the Zimbabwe authorities: "He [Dzamara] was reading the New Testament y in good spirits while describing his abduction y beating." (See tweet below).

Long line of injured activists

But Dzamara is only one in a long list of activists who've been treated in the Avenues Clinic, which is much less glitzy than Johannesburg and Pretoria medi-clinics. Set up in 1983, it's not the only Harare hospital that provides emergency treatment to activists (and ruling party officials, of course, though normally in other circumstances). But there are times when - scarily - the police have actually come into the Avenues to find opponents of the government.

A Google search with the terms "activist Avenues Clinic Harare" will turn up a wealth of results. A number of incidents stand out.

Armed police "guards"

In 2007, a bloodied Morgan Tsvangirai was taken here along with 63 other protesters attacked at a prayer rally ahead of the 2008 elections (Tsvangirai went on to win the first round of those polls but had to pull out of the second round due to a sustained campaign of violence against his supporters in the rural areas).

Doctor Douglas Gwatidzo told the Washington Post back then that each patient was guarded by two armed police officers. "They were very aggressive and threatening," he was quoted as saying. Ironically Mugabe was seen at the clinic that same month, visiting his sister Sabina who was ill at the time.

In April 2007, nine members of Tsvangirai's MDC party were forcibly removed from the clinic.

Bandaged patients threatened

Ruling party militias attacked anyone on the streets of Harare during the MDC's "mass action" in June 2003 - even dragging a man out of the capital's exclusive Meikles Hotel. Activists were taken to the Avenues for treatment. 

Reporters remember sneaking in through the street entrance of the pharmacy to see the injured. But the police came too. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said in a statement that the police "created a panic... Victims of violence were easily identified by their bandages, and these people in particular were threatened by the police."

Anarchy in reception

Britain's Daily Telegraph reported in 2001 that a mob of activists and war veterans loyal to Mugabe stormed the clinic demanding backpay for a group of workers sacked six years earlier.  Police did not respond to calls for help, the report said.

Increase in cases

The relative stability that the power-sharing government from 2009 to 2013 brought saw a marked drop in political violence cases. 

Sadly, they've resurfaced this year as opponents of Mugabe have got braver on the back of the #ThisFlag movement. The EU last Friday slammed the growth of human rights violations in the country.

It's not just MDC or #ThisFlag supporters who have received treatment at the Avenues: in September seven activists from ex-vice president Joice Mujuru's Zimbabwe People First party came here for help after an attack by ZANU-PF youths in Guruve (see tweet below).

The clinic's FB page is sprinkled with pics of cute newborns - and effusive praise from Zimbabwe residents who've been treated here.

Let's hope (against hope) that its dedicated staff won't have to attend to many more victims of political violence.


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