Maverick Citizen


Dystopian scenes as Bloemfontein’s Pelonomi Hospital wage strike shuts down medical care

Dystopian scenes as Bloemfontein’s Pelonomi Hospital wage strike shuts down medical care
An abandoned, empty nurses’ station inside the Pelonomi hospital in Bloemfontein. One of many. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Patients helping themselves to morphine, dead bodies in the corridors, premature babies going hungry and no food or water for older patients — that’s the reality in Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein on day two of a strike by nursing staff.

An eerie atmosphere hung over Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein on Tuesday, the second day of a Nehawu wage strike, with hospital rooms having been hastily abandoned, leaving corridors and beds empty and patients limping around in pain.

pelonomi hospital strike

Christel Vermaak (45), with an open stomach wound due to complications from an earlier hernia operation, in the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. She and several other women in the room had just been told they were being discharged due to the severe staff shortage. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Outside the hospital, Nehawu members sang and danced. One protester brandished a sjambok as groups of police guarded the entrance.

Several patients Maverick Citizen spoke to said they had seen dead bodies lying in the corridors. They complained that they had received no food for the past two days. Some managed to get their hands on a little dry bread. There was even talk of premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit not having had any milk since the protest began.

pelomoni strike

Nursing staff on strike at Pelomoni Hospital, Bloemfontein, Free State. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

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With virtually no nurses working, some patients weren’t given their pain medication. Some went as far as helping themselves to medication from unlocked medicine cabinets.

Kyle Steenkamp, 25, who was hobbling around with a broken hip, told Maverick Citizen that he was left with no choice but to help himself to some morphine.

Doctors have stepped into the gap left by protesting nurses and are helping out wherever they can. A handful of nurses chose not to strike and are working in their civilian clothes to remain incognito.

Walking down the corridors, it was impossible to distinguish health workers from civilians and patients. Most doctors Maverick Citizen approached simply raised their hands, indicating that they were unable to comment.

Patients in distress

We found Christel Vermaak, 45, lying on a bed in the surgical ward. She had an open wound due to complications from an earlier hernia operation. She waved her hand at the other women in the room, remarking, “They all have open wounds.”

She pointed to a fellow patient sitting on a bed who was suffering badly from gallstones and in urgent need of surgery. The woman, who looked unwell, declined to give her name.

Pelonomi strike

A man, alone in one of the hospital rooms, stares through the window at Nehawu members singing outside the entrance to the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

pelonomi strike

A protester with a sjambok stops health workers from entering Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. (Photo: Supplied)

Vermaak nodded towards another elderly woman on the bed beside her. She has cancer and was in hospital to drain an abscess in her breast.

“We were told we were being discharged. I fully understand, because there’s no one here to help us, and the doctors have no choice but to focus on the most critical patients. But it’s absolutely horrible,” said Vermaak.

Patients pooled their money to buy food to share among themselves.

Those who could, were distributing large bottles of tap water to patients in unstaffed wards.

pelomoni hospital

Vandalism at Pelonomi Hospital, Bloemfontein, Free State. (Photo: Supplied)

Operations stalled

A 53-year-old man, who was in a car accident a week ago and requires urgent surgery on his leg, is still waiting for the operation. He told Maverick Citizen that he’s been informed he can only be attended to next week. On Monday, he didn’t get anything to eat. 

“Because my leg is so badly injured, I can’t get off the bed. I urinate into a catheter and with no nurses to help me, I have to ask my fellow patients to empty it for me. It’s just impossible to do it myself.”

On Monday, 42-year-old Abrie Montshi was admitted to Pelonomi Hospital with a broken arm. Clearly in pain, he lifted the sleeve of his T-shirt to show Maverick Citizen how the broken bone was clearly visible.

pelonomi strike

A heavily pregnant Kgothatso Mary Mokhele (39) with her son, Rethabile (17) at the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. She was due to have a check-up, but was told she couldn’t be helped due to the severe staff shortage. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Kgothatso Mary Mokhete, 39, is heavily pregnant and was scheduled for a check-up on Tuesday. She was told to go home.

“My son was stabbed in our neighbourhood yesterday. He came to Pelonomi but has not even been looked at yet,” she said.

A group of young women rushed by. “We are dieticians,” they said to Maverick Citizen.

“We’re not being targeted because we’re not nurses. So, we’re doing all we can to help. But yes, we are scared. We never walk alone, only in groups. We wear civvies so that no one notices us. We keep our handbags with us all the time. We parked our cars far away and walked here, together. But we’re doing all we can to help,” said one, declining to give her name. MC/DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Neven Govender says:

    Nursing council needs to step in. Medical professionals swear the Hippocratic Oath to help their patients, not their pocket. When the union based medical aid SAMWUMED offered a Zero percent increase to GPs in 2023, doctors did not abandon our posts and ignore patients, yet these unions feel it appropriate to strike when they are offered low increases. How is NHI going to work? NDOH leverages services of the private sector, and continue with it’s over inflated salary purse. Government has given too much power to unions covering a few million South Africans, whilst the majority unemployed or non unionised South Africans suffer.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The evil of the tripartite alliance becomes visible whenever there’s a strike. These Union members do not hesitate to break down and damage the places where they earn their daily bread, nor do they care about the lives of the patients under their care. They assault their colleagues who do not agree with them, or are not members of their union. WTF is wrong with these people? (What will they do if the ANC loses the election?)

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    I have been lucky enough not to have to cross a picket line and support the rights of all workers to withold their labour as the only real negotiation tactic. But there should be immediate arrests of Union Leadership when even a stone falls during a protest action, let alone threats of violence or an attempt to curtail the freedom of movement, association, care-seeking of others. Once they have satisfied a court, that beyond any reasonable doubt and as many appeals as are seen as necessary to lay the case to rest; said leadership can be allowed the freedoms that their supporters and membership have premeditated and ultimately acted upon to deny others. That’s all.

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