Maverick Citizen

EDITORIAL

Let’s be clear: The hospital strike must be called off now

Let’s be clear: The hospital strike must be called off now
Health Minister Joe Phaahla. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union members protest at the ANC National Policy Conference at Nasrec Expo on 29 July 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake) | Felix Dlangamandla

Let’s be clear. The government is failing our public sector nurses. They should be paid more. They should be practising medicine and saving lives in conditions that are safe and sanitary. They should be respected and honoured. They are worth far more to our society than our politicians. But, as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. And what is happening in our health facilities this week does not justify a strike that is deliberately turning on the poorest among us.

On Monday, Nehawu embarked on an indefinite strike to protest against the wages and conditions of public health sector workers.

But instead of being an action to advance human rights, it has immediately led to a massive human rights and public health crisis, reserved exclusively for the poor, the 85% that rely on the state health system. People are being denied the right to healthcare services, sufficient food, dignity and even life. 

As we have reported in Maverick Citizen, through intimidation and thuggery some hospitals have been closed, wards emptied of nurses, sick babies left unattended, and patients denied medicines, food and dignity. People are dying directly as a result of the strike.

Read more in Daily Maverick:

Too early to call in the army, Health Department says as hospitals buckle under violent protests

Nehawu strike continues despite second interdict, leaving health facilities reeling” 

One senior black doctor, who has worked for decades in a rural public hospital told us: “A lot of us are sympathetic with the nurses’ demands, but not with their methods. If you are pissed off with the minister, go and occupy his office and stay there like in the old days. Avoid using the most vulnerable people as blackmail. You can’t use the helpless and vulnerable to get your point across. That’s totally wrong.”   


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Let’s be clear. 

People in South Africa are deeply indebted to public health sector workers, especially nurses and doctors, many of whom choose to remain in the public sector because they want to serve poor communities. During Covid-19 nearly 2,000 nurses and doctors lost their lives because they remained on the front line. Tens of thousands of our lives were saved because they cared and made sacrifices. 

Since then, public health workers have continued working, trying to catch up with the additional burden of disease, despite their own trauma, exhaustion and anxieties.   

Let’s be clear.

The government is failing our public sector nurses. They should be paid more. They should be practising medicine and saving lives in conditions that are safe and sanitary. They should be respected and honoured. They are worth far more to our society than our politicians. 

Let’s be clear.

The health minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, and the government must be held accountable for a failing health system and the lack of a human resources for health plan. In the last two days, Phaahla has been awol. Although senior officials, like the Director-General Dr Sandile Buthelezi, have visited some of the worst-affected hospitals, they have kept silent. It’s not good enough. 

Let’s be clear.  

The Treasury must be held responsible for starving the health system of necessary funding, an austerity policy that is also costing lives.

But, as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. None of this justifies turning on the poorest among us. 

During the 2010 public sector strike there was also an outcry about the harm to patients. There was a call for the finalisation of a Minimum Service Level Agreement (MSLA) with the health unions that would protect the right to strike and the right to healthcare services. 

But 10 years later, nothing has happened. 

Throughout history, strikes have been an important instrument in the armoury of the working class. They have targeted the profits and privileges of the rich and drawn attention to injustice. But this strike doesn’t even hurt the politicians, who all use the private health sector.

We believe there are better ways to protest, ways that will mobilise public sympathy and support.  

Nehawu leaders, including leaders of Fedusa, Saftu and Cosatu, must either call this strike off or ensure it is conducted without loss of life and destruction of precious infrastructure. Instead, meet with civil society activists and all people who work in and care about health to work out how to solve these problems and bring dignity and respect back to health workers and patients. DM/MC 

 

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Expecting empathy or decency from a union leader is hilariously optomistic.

  • Tim Price says:

    The actions of the entitled employed strikers and the lack of action by the police is as usuallu utterly shocking but expected in the ANC run SA.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Just read an ambulance carrying an injured child got attacked by striking workers in KZN. Mark, do you think it’s unreasonable to call for the immediate dismissal of any striking worker who intimidates or threaten other workers, damage infrastructure or occupies essential services? If not why not? South Africa’s cowing to violent strikers leads us down a path of either chaos or massive violent conflict (like Marikana).
    Excerpt from the report: “Protesters outside General Justice Gizenga Mpanza Regional Hospital in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, have attacked a private ambulance carrying a child in a critical condition.
    IPSS Medical spokesperson Samantha Meyrick said paramedics had been transporting the child on advanced life support to the hospital when protesters stopped the ambulance shortly after 11:00 on Wednesday. Protesters reportedly attempted to remove the child from the ambulance and assaulted one of the paramedics”.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Typical left-wing behavior.

  • Ruby Delahunt says:

    Couldn’t agree more. When strikes start inconveniencing average people more than they do complacent government officials, something is wrong.

  • James Francis says:

    Fire them all and demolish the unions.

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