Minister of Transport and Communications Brian Mushimba has blocked critics on Twitter after they demanded justification for his decision to get his broken arm treated in South Africa, where he stayed for over a month.
Mushimba was involved in a road traffic accident on the night of January 18, 2019 after a Toyota Land Cruiser he was driving overturned on Thabo Mbeki Road in Lusaka.
His counterpart at the Ministry of Health, Dr Chitalu Chilufya, told journalists the following day that Mushimba had “sustained injuries to his right forearm, underwent surgery in the early hours of this morning and is stable”.
He was, however, evacuated to South Africa where he was hospitalised for weeks at Arwyp Medical Centre, an expensive private hospital in Kempton Park, Gauteng Province.
The minister was only discharged from hospital on Sunday and immediately took to Twitter to rejoice.
“So thankful to be going home today after an extended stay at the hospital repairing my injured right arm. Thank you for best wishes and prayers”, he tweeted, along with an image of himself and three medical officers at Arwyp Medical Centre.
The tweet immediately invited furious responses from many taxpayers.
Civic rights campaigner and Alliance for Community Action Executive Director Laura Miti led the onslaught when she tweeted, “Govt cannot pay for the university education of brilliant underprivileged students but has money to send a Minister abroad for a broken arm for weeks at astronomical cost. He poses for pictures to show us the medical care leaders enjoy. Alright Minister Mushimba, we have seen”.
Another twitter user Marcos wrote “Everyday we wake up to something shameful by these looters. When will we wake up to hear the working class’ lives have been improved, the under privileged have been better placed? #everyMourning4Zambia”.
Satirical singer Fuma Chamba alias Pilato tweeted “Hey world, this is a cabinet minister in Zambia who broke his arm and rushed to South Africa for treatment. His government runs hospitals in the country but he couldn’t go to any because they are below his standards. His arm deserves better treatment than pipo in local hospitals…It’s hard to tell, was he laughing at the poor people with serious illnesses who go to government hospitals where they can’t even handle a minister’s broken arm?”
It was the tweet from political commentator and columnist Sishuwa Sishuwa that first prompted the minister to respond.
“An injured arm, you say? Do you have such little trust in the hospitals in our own country that for a minor complaint you were flown to South Africa? Are you mocking Zambians? And who paid for your medical bills, we the taxpayers? Or perhaps you paid out of your own pocket?” Sishuwa asked.
In response, Mushimba said, “I will not make my medical file a subject of debate for settling cheap political scores. Good day sir.”
This reply infuriated Zambian netizens, who returned with more biting tweets.
“You are the one who made your ‘medical file’ public, not me. And you did so from your official Twitter account. Was your treatment paid [for] by taxpayers? If so, then taxpayers have a right to know & to be outraged at the waste of money that could be used to improve healthcare in Zambia”, Sishuwa wrote.
Economist and academic Dr Grieve Chelwa joined the discussion. “WE paid for this Mr. Mushimba. WE have every right to know. This stopped being a private matter the moment you used public money for your treatment in South Africa. WE also deserve to know the extent to which this was a waste of public money — waste in the sense that we could easily have sorted what appears in your own picture to be a simple broken arm back home”, he wrote.
Others wondered whether Zambian doctors are too incompetent to treat an injured arm.
“I know a lot of outstanding orthopedic surgeons in Zambia who could’ve fixed your arm and discharged you in 2 days. ichalo ichi. Get well soon and travel back safely”, tweeted Gloria.
“The health of our nation is measured by where our leaders seek health care and die…” wrote Kupela Clarke.
Chibozu condemned the minister for “Just wasting tax payer’s money. Unnecessary evacuation should be avoided, does this mean that our home based DOCTORS can’t do a perfect job on your arm. If they can do a perfect surgery on Siamese twins, what is so completed about your arm HON. I can’t refrain from debating on this matter, mind you, you are a public servant and this matter is in public domain. We are taxpayers and we are concerned.”
In an attempt to quell the flood of angry tweets, the minister replied: “Let’s not debate when we don’t have all the facts. Please refrain from doing that. Surely? Where has our humanity gone to? This is sad.”
Mushimba’s answer only served to invite further outrage from the not receding public.
Mrs. B to be replied, “Give us the facts then. What exactly necessitated your evacuation? It’s public interest when everyone assumes you used public funds. Even just clarifying whether or not you footed your own bill would stop the questions.” Another twitter user who goes by the name ‘The African, chipped in, “You brought your ‘medical condition’ onto a public forum and now say we shouldn’t debate it for lack of information. Are you serious? We mend our limbs in public care but you fly out to SA for yours. When we ask why, you scream ‘lack of humanity.’ How is the irony lost on you!”
Peter Mubanga Cheuka wrote, “You need to avoid using this cheap way of responding to questions raised by the people. People want to know why you were not treated in Zambia. Million other Zambians are being treated in our local hospitals. Don’t just expect praise, but questions as well from people you lead.” Luke Mulenga followed suit: “Please stop the operatic histrionics. It’s a simple inquiry requiring a simple answer. It would be an absolute disgrace if you used tax payer funds to pay for treatment that would have been done in one of our local hospitals.”
Wika Kawina agreed: “I agree. I personally feel mocked that people that are in charge of improving my well-being are in the forefront in getting evacuated to other countries for health care. What does that say about the services we have here in Zambia? Highly disgraceful.”
Maloza wrote: “Awryp Hospital charges minimum admission fee K30,000 per day X 30 days = over K1,000,000 for a drunken driver’s broken arm. That’s excluding tests, emergency call, surgery, medication, relatives escorting etc. Yet PF Govt claims there’s no money for student meal allowances. Misplaced priorities. what a wasteful regime. The pipo who keep voting/rigging for this regime need to be detained at Chainama mental Hospital.”
A few netizens, however, empathized with the minister. “Impressed by the fact that you kept working [while you were in hospital], tweeted Kabwe JMusonda while Muloongo Muchelemba wished the minister well, tweeting “ Get well soon Honorable”, a message that was echoed by others.
David Kabaso offered a conclusion: “Hope you copied all the machines they used so you come and urge your government to buy them to avoid traveling back to other countries for treatment. It’s a shame”
Meanwhile, those who criticised the Minister later complained that he had blocked them from accessing his account.
Sishuwa, posting a screenshot of the blockade, wrote “Last week, l agreed with #Zambia’s Minister of Communications Brian Mushimba’s tweet on the need to support ZAMTEL. He heaped praise on me. Today, l asked him if his medical treatment in SA was funded by taxpayers, noting that we need to improve our own healthcare. He BLOCKED me.”
Many others such as Dr Chelwa and Mona Lisa registered similar complaints. “He has blocked me too”, tweeted Dr Chelwa.