JOHANNESBURG, 30 June (IRIN) - Anna Matema (not her real name)
is a 45-year-old senior nurse at Harare Central Hospital, a public referral
hospital catering mainly for the poor living in the city's high-density areas.
Matema is a widow and mother of five, and has been a nurse for 20 years. She says she is dismayed by spiralling inflation which makes it difficult for her to budget for groceries, transport and her children's school fees.
"Other departments in the civil service - teachers, soldiers and policemen, for example - think that nurses are given preferential treatment by the government when it comes to salaries. Even though we are [paid] slightly better than them, life is equally tough for us," she explains.
Matema's gross monthly salary, pegged at Zim $84,000 (US $102), is set to rise to Zim $150,000 (US $182) as a result of a recent job evaluation exercise. Nevertheless, she does not forsee being able to make any savings.
Last year she was forced to pull her two children out of boarding school following sharp increases in boarding fees. They are now enrolled in less well equipped government schools.
"Before withdrawing them from boarding school, a big chunk of my salary went towards debts I was incurring every month. I discovered that I was being swallowed by borrowing, particularly from money-lending businesses that have sprouted in town. These sharks charge you extremely high interests, and the loans are deducted from your payslip."
Matema was forced to sell her husband's car to offset her debts. After working as a nurse for two decades, she says she feels she has virtually nothing to show for it.
Her 23-year-old eldest daughter recently took up cross-border trading to help support the family. She travels to South Africa and Botswana selling local craft and boutique products.
Matema does not like the business since she thinks it exposes her daughter to the risk of muggings and HIV/AIDS, but feels she has no choice but to accept it, because it goes a long way to supplementing the family income.
She complains of low morale among her colleagues at work. Zimbabwe has lost a large crop of its most experienced nurses to better paid jobs overseas, particularly the UK. "Those who remain do not give their job maximum attention. The sick are therefore caught in the vicious cycle, hence high mortality rates at public hospitals."
But despite the difficulties, Matema remains optimistic about the country's future.
"Zimbabwe is a great country. We can still reclaim our status as Southern Africa's breadbasket and one of the strongest economies. What we need to do is to persuade all political parties to sit down together so as to establish an acceptable government.
"We would only be fooling ourselves if we thought that we could go it alone. We need a lot of friends from outside. They will bring back investment and create jobs for our children. In addition, Zimbabweans should see themselves as part of the same family and march into the future together," she says.
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