HARARE - A young Zimbabwean doctor who led a recent doctors' strike over poor government salaries disappeared Saturday, in a move his colleagues say is an overt warning to all public-sector doctors in the country.
The events could exacerbate an impasse between the doctors and the government over their demands for a salary increase, as doctors say their government salary is a pittance that doesn't allow them to cover even the most basic needs.
Here is the chilling message that Dr. Peter Magombeyi, head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, received before he suddenly went missing.
"Do not say I did not warn you,” read his colleague, Dr. Learnmore Shoti. "Keep on doing what you are doing, you will be taken by a whirlwind. We are getting close now. Which is a threat you will disappear. This was a screenshot from him a few days before this incident. So we are very much worried about what really happened to him."
So what was Dr. Magombeyi doing that was so dangerous? VOA spoke to him a few days earlier.
"The Zimbabwean doctors, they are not on strike, but they simply do not have the means to keep on continuing to report for duty," said the 26-year-old junior doctor. "The will exists, but the means do not. So the doctors are incapacitated and they are not on strike."
As a result of the nation's shattered economy, junior doctors earn less than $100 a month. They have since gone on strike twice in the past year to try to address that. The nation's triple-digit inflation means that most Zimbabweans are struggling to afford basic necessities.
As if to underscore that point, Dr. Magombeyi ran out of fuel on his way to meet with VOA. We helped him push his dead car into a parking space.
Dr. Tapiwa Mungofa, chairperson of the Harare Central Doctors Association, said his colleagues received a worrying message from Dr. Magombeyi around 10 p.m. Saturday, saying he was being taken away by three men.
And that, he said, means something sinister in Zimbabwe, where abductions of government critics are not uncommon, and rarely end well. Perhaps the most famous case is the 2015 disappearance of prominent journalist Itai Dzamara, one of the most outspoken critics of former president Robert Mugabe.
"Abductions in this country did not start yesterday," he said. "They have been ongoing. We saw other people being badly beaten, others, they did not even come back. I am sure you know the issue about Itai Dzamara. No one knows his whereabouts. So, at this point in time, we are grossly saddened and we are very much worried about the whereabouts of our leader."
VOA contacted the police, who could not immediately provide any information on the incident on Sunday.
Mungofa said public-sector doctors should take Dr. Magombeyi's disappearance as a warning.
"We are currently advising our members to stay put somewhere safe," he said. "Because we are now considering the workplace, and even our homes, unsafe for doctors. We don't know who is going to be taken next."