Suffering severe chest pains, Rosina Chataika, 57, was recently ferried 70km from her rural home in Zvimba Distict to Parirenyatwa Hospital in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.
The consulting doctor said a blood test was required for a diagnosis, but for three days no test was performed, and her condition worsened. Chataika complained to the ward’s male nurse, who asked her for a US$50 payment to “jump the queue”.
Her son, a bricklayer in the small town of Chegutu, about 120km from the capital, had to beg relatives for the bribe money. Chataika’s blood sample was taken only after the nurse was paid.
Three months after being discharged, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She also sits on a $600 medical bill for her two-week hospital stay, which she cannot afford to settle.
“If we had not managed to raise that $50, I would have probably died. For the days I was in hospital, I learned that the nurse demanded money from many other desperate and poor patients who could not immediately get the services they wanted. [He] could probably be getting rich at the expense of the sick and poor,” she told IRIN.
Several nurses told Chataika that the male nurse worked in tandem with doctors to provide preferential treatment at a cost. “The nurses, messengers and some doctors are demanding money to ensure that admitted patients get such things as medication. I am sure there are many people who are dying because they cannot pay the bribes,” she said.
Chataika’s experience is far from unique. The 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, by Transparency International, ranks Zimbabwe at 163 out of 174 countries surveyed - with number 174, Somalia, perceived as the most corrupt. Zimbabwe’s position on the index has fallen from 154 in 2011.
Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) said in December 2012, “Corruption amounts to a dirty tax, and the poor and most vulnerable are its primary victims, especially [those in] the rural and marginalized communities.”
TIZ said corruption was particularly rampant within the education, health, mining, sports, judicial and agriculture sectors and was becoming ingrained within the society.
Not all bribes are paid with cash.
Sekai Chinouriri, 35, a divorced mother of two from Seke District, was denied a plot on communal land because she refused to provide the headman with sexual favours.
“The headman wanted me to have sex with him before he would give me the plot, which I need to grow vegetables for sale and to raise money to fend for my children and pay their fees. When my husband went away, I had to go and live with my elderly parents, but we are already a burden to them.
“Just because I won’t give the village head the sexual favours he demanded, my family will have to beg for food and money, and that is not fair. I desperately need money, yet I cannot entertain the idea of getting into commercial sex,” she told IRIN.
Chinouriri says the headman also demands villagers give him a cut of donor food aid in order to remain on the beneficiaries’ list. “We are afraid to report him because we will be victimized,” she said.
James Karima, 25, from Harare, is struggling to be admitted to a teacher training college – even though he has the qualifications - because he cannot afford the $500 bribe for admittance.
“I had better grades at A-level than many people who have been admitted by the colleges. They managed to raise the money to give lecturers and college staff, but I have no brother or relative to help me,” Karima told IRIN. “Corruption in Zimbabwe is making some poor people get rich, and the rich, richer, while the majority of the poor are getting poorer.”
Willus Madzimure, a member of parliament and chairperson of the Zimbabwe chapter of the African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption, told IRIN poverty also meant powerlessness.
“They are the last in the queue and thus always miss out on life-changing opportunities. In rural areas, traditional leaders are demanding about $300 or cattle for one to be given land, but where do these vulnerable people get the money or livestock from when they can’t even build a shelter?” he said.
Madzimure said the government’s anti-corruption “body has failed because it is influenced by politicians and does not have the money”.