HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Officials of the Salvation Army in Zimbabwe said Sunday they have given a Canadian doctor 48 hours to leave the southern African nation after he was fired from a mission hospital.
Dr. Paul Thistle's departure was moved forward from Sept. 1 after villagers incited violence at the medical facility on Thursday to demand his reinstatement, said Vinece Chigariro, head of the church group in Zimbabwe. Thistle was the chief medical officer at the Howard hospital about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Harare. After 16 years at the mission, Thistle had clashed with church leaders over fund raising for the hospital and local aid projects.
He said the order to leave was "not a legal decision" by Zimbabwean immigration or police authorities.
Twelve people were arrested after Thursday's unrest and eight nurses were held for questioning on allegations of incitement to violence.
"The nurses are people who treat and care for the victims of trauma and don't create it," Thistle said.
Chigariro said Thistle had challenged church leaders and he was being reassigned "for the good of the church." Ordained Salvation Army officers "sign a covenant with God and make an undertaking to be loyal to the church leadership," she said.
Thistle told The Associated Press on Sunday he will leave Zimbabwe after conferring with his Zimbabwean family members. He is married to a Zimbabwean nurse.
He left the mission Saturday. Disruptions at the hospital, including a heavy police presence since Thursday, have left the facility running at about one quarter of its capacity, he said. Patients were transferred to other facilities unable to treat them adequately, he said.
"People are suffering and dying and the church doesn't care. I can live a safe life in Canada but the professional staff we have worked with for nearly 20 years are suffering now too. That's not right," said Thistle, a fluent speaker of the local Shona language who was born in Scarborough in Canada and qualified as a doctor at the Toronto university.
His work at the hospital and his far reaching programs to treat AIDS sufferers in the impoverished Chiweshe district have won accolades from medical professionals in Zimbabwe and worldwide.
The popular and well-loved physician was carried shoulder high by villagers during a week of dispute over his future. Community elders said they wanted him to stay.
"The people have spoken but they have been overruled," he said.
Thistle said he differed with church leaders over donor aid and some private donor funding and project materials for the mission went unaccounted for.
"I don't want to tarnish the name of the Salvation Army worldwide, but we have a crisis in the church leadership in Zimbabwe," he said.