Maverick Citizen


Military mismanagement: Union asks minister to intervene to get SANDF healthcare workers vaccinated

The 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria is run by the South African Medical Health Service. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Liza van Deventer)

The roughly 4,000 medics working for the military are ‘frustrated and outraged’ that their safety is being compromised unnecessarily by their own command structure, says the SA National Defence Union.

The South African National Defence Union (Sandu) has demanded that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) register military healthcare workers in the Sisonke Vaccination Programme. If not done by Monday 8 March, the trade union is prepared to take the matter to court. It has appealed to the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans to intervene urgently.

The union has been “inundated” with calls by military healthcare workers over the apparent failure of the SANDF surgeon-general, Lieutenant-General Zola Dabula, to register them with the vaccination programme.

The programme launched on 17 February and 70,527 healthcare workers in the public and private sector had been vaccinated by 4 March.

All healthcare workers are required to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) if they intend to be vaccinated during Phase One. They then receive a “voucher” to be handed in at the vaccination site on the day they have been scheduled to receive their dose.

However, this was seemingly not the case for military healthcare workers.

A letter from the trade union’s attorneys at Griesel Breytenbach Incorporated to Dabula, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Secretary for Defence Gladys Sonto Kudjoe and the chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, on 3 March states that military healthcare workers were told informally that they could not register as individuals on the EVDS “as it is a security risk”.

They were on two occasions asked to provide the necessary details for registration. They received no further communication about it.

Some military healthcare workers did try to register individually on the EVDS. When they indicated they were employed by the Department of Defence, then they were “blocked” from the system. They were told they were not in the correct category to be vaccinated. 

The union had not engaged with the military on the issue of vaccines before this letter because they expected that military healthcare workers would be included as they are public healthcare workers, said Pikkie Greeff, the national secretary of Sandu. He said a military roll-out plan had already been drafted and signed but was never implemented.

This affects the roughly 4,000 medics working for the military, he said. They are “frustrated and outraged” that their safety is being compromised unnecessarily by their own command structure, he said.

The union, through its attorneys, argued that the reason for this failure to register “is because the SANDF and specifically the SAMHS [SA Military Health Service] failed to arrange with the National Health Department to include its members in the Sisonke Program[me].”

The South African Medical Research Council, which is one of the driving forces behind the Sisonke programme, told Maverick Citizen on 2 March that, “The South African Military Health Service did not receive a specific allocation. They fall under the public sector allocation and have been included in their catchment area hospital allocation.”

The trade union argues military healthcare workers have the right to be vaccinated and are exposed to Covid-19 daily. “This constitutes a grave and unnecessary as well as irresponsible endangerment to the lives of Military Health Care Workers,” it said in a statement.

Because of the “seriousness” of the situation, the union has instructed its attorneys to demand “immediate rectification” of the situation by Monday 8 March. 

If not, it will launch urgent legal action against the Department of Defence and the surgeon-general to force them to act. 

It also called on the minister of defence to engage with the SANDF top brass and “take drastic action against those responsible for this scandalous and dangerous failure, including if necessary, the relieve [sic] from duty of the Surgeon General”.

The surgeon-general is in command of the military healthcare workers, and it was his responsibility to include these healthcare workers in the vaccination programme, but he had failed to do so, said Greeff.

He added that it boils down to the military endangering its own forces. “When one endangers one’s own forces, that’s an actual criminal offence in terms of the Military Discipline Bill. Somebody should be prosecuted here,” he said.

The union has not received a response from the SAMHS, SANDF or the defence ministry, he said. 

SANDF spokesperson Colonel Ronald Maseko referred Maverick Citizen to the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans.

The spokesperson for the ministry, Siphiwe Dlamini, said he was not aware of the letter. DM/MC


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