16 people who were standing trial in Chiweshe have been acquitted, in the ongoing case of a protest against the dismissal of the chief doctor at the Salvation Army run Howard Hospital.
The 16 were part of a group of 20 Chiweshe residents, including eight nurses at the Howard mission, who were being charged in connection with the protest in August. The demonstration, organised to display the public outrage over the forced removal of Dr. Paul Thistle, turned violent and saw police units being called in to fire tear gas and make arrests. 12 people were arrested on the spot, while the eight nurses were later brought in for questioning for allegedly 'inciting' the violence.
Four of the group of 20 now remain on remand in the ongoing trial, after 16 of the accused were acquitted on Friday. A source who has been attending the proceedings at the local magistrate's court told SW Radio Africa that the charges were dropped against the 16 because of lack of evidence.
In the meantime, there is still hope that Dr. Thistle will be reinstated at the hospital where local residents have explained medical services have not returned to their usual standards since he was forced to leave. A resident told SW Radio Africa on Monday that most patients are being transferred to other facilities, because there has been no replacement for Dr. Thistle yet.
"The situation remains tense. Almost everyone wants the doctor to come back, but we don't know what is happening. I can say that the number of people going to the hospital has decreased by 80%," the resident said.
The Canadian born doctor meanwhile is meant to be back in Canada after he was 'reassigned' by the Church. He has refused to leave the country while his colleagues were on trial, but it is not yet clear when and if he intends to leave Zimbabwe any time soon. His Zimbabwean born wife Pedrina, a nurse at the Howard mission, has not returned to the hospital either.
Dr. Thistle's forced removal in August followed the concerns he had raised of financial mismanagement at the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe, with funds meant for the Howard mission not being channelled into the facility. An international Salvation Army delegation has since been to Zimbabwe to investigate.
The Zimbabwe Salvation Army chief has also been reassigned in the ongoing saga. Vinece Chigariro will assume her new duties in Kenya from January 2013.