Maverick Citizen


Nehawu strike continues to hit hard with widespread reports of deaths and suffering

Nehawu strike continues to hit hard with widespread reports of deaths and suffering
Nehawu members prosest at Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Day two of the interdicted Nehawu strike continued to rumble and burn on Tuesday, leaving dead bodies, exhausted workers and hungry and untreated patients in its wake.

Maverick Citizen has been contacted by doctors, nurses, patients and health workers across the country. Below, we attempt to document their experiences and concerns which continued to flood in throughout the day.

North West

nehawu tshepong

Police clear burning tyres at Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp on 7 March 2023 as Nehawu members picket outside the hospital. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp has been hard hit. 

“Our nursing services manager was up until 1.30am. She was actually laying out four corpses,” said an exhausted health worker.

“We will investigate if the deaths are linked to the strike action… they were simply found dead in their beds and suffice to say that yesterday (Monday) no patient received any medication, or IV fluids or anything.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: “A doctor’s plea — ‘If you are pissed off with the minister, go and occupy his office’ 

North West health department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane confirmed that Tshepong was hardest hit. “That is where most of the protests and blockages were.”

nehawu tshepong

A few nurses attend to patients at Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

nehawu tshepong

A patient in a wheelchair in a hallway at Tshepong Hospital in Klerksdorp on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

He said the protests generally ramped up in the morning, but calmed down as the day progressed.

“The MEC just had a meeting with the provincial secretary of Nehawu. They have reached agreements that the Nehawu leadership will be talking to their members to stop blocking entrances to health facilities, and that all facilities should develop minimum staff per unit.”

He said Nehawu wanted to continue the strike, but would allow for services to be rendered.

“It is only Nehawu members on strike – Denosa is not on strike, other unions are not on strike… so departments will be able to render services if there are no disruptions.”

Free State

Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein reported several disruptions, intimidation, damage to property and threats of violence.

nehawu pelonomi

Abrie Montshi (42) was admitted to the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein, with a broken arm. On Tuesday, it had still not been treated or put in a cast, due to the severe staff shortage. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

One Nehawu protester was photographed with a sjambok inside the hospital. Health workers reported being threatened that they were going to be sjambokked as they wheeled a critically ill patient down the passage. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Strikers at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein armed with sjamboks as frazzled, terrified doctors warn that patients will die

Health workers also made an appeal for volunteers to help them in handing out food at Pelonomi.

“There are still no nurses in the paeds ward 10A. The registrars and consultants did the nursing so far in the day. What will happen with night staff? There cannot be no nurses on the floor overnight,” said one doctor.

Another begged for transport to fetch haemodialysis patients and nurses to treat them. Patients can die if they do not receive their dialysis.

At 8.10pm on Tuesday doctors reported that protestors had gained access to the paediatric ward. Some protestors were reported to be intoxicated and were barring health workers from entering or leaving. Workers were begging hospital management to call for the deployment of the defence force as several warned that many Pelonomi hospital wards had been left unattended. “We cannot abandons ship now,” said one health worker who was trying to attend to two wards with no help.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dystopian scenes as Bloemfontein’s Pelonomi Hospital wage strike shuts down medical care


nehawu chris hani baragwanath

Health workers picket outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

Martha Mokoena, 56, from Mapetla in Soweto, awaited her medication anxiously at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Tuesday. She walked past burning tyres and a sea of red – Nehawu members who had been picketing since 6am.

“The people inside tried to help but it was slow… I didn’t get to see the doctor for a check-up. They said only people who are really sick should see the doctor, but even then he won’t do a full check-up,” said Mokoena, who has arthritis and respiratory issues.

nehawu chris hani baragwanath

Patients wait in a queue at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

Police outside the hospital were monitoring the situation, while patients used the bridge that runs above the hospital entrance.

“They just sent me to get the pills at the chemist… that is where the delay is. I was scared while waiting for the pills. I thought we might get locked in or the striking workers might come and fight the ones who are working here,” Mokoena said.

She left eight hours later without seeing a doctor, but grateful that she had received medication.

A 60-year-old patient who asked to remain anonymous told Maverick Citizen she had a heart condition caused by a clogged artery and couldn’t afford to miss appointments.

“Luckily I have done the surgery and I am here for a post-operation check-up. I have been here since 7am… what pains me is the workers here use private hospitals, not like us… so it is painful that they let people suffer like this,” she said.

Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg had a similar picket outside the main gate, with cars being turned back and tyres burnt.

Patients used alternative entrances that were not manned by striking workers.

nehawu helen joseph

Nehawu branch secretary Zwelethu Moshidi speaks to union members outside Helen Joseph Hospital on 7 March 2023. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

Zwelethu Moshidi, branch secretary of Nehawu, said: We are not hindering any services to the community… we are picketing here but the other gates are free – check the emergency gate, the ambulances are coming through.”

Relatives waiting for patients said they were unhindered by the protesters outside the tertiary hospital. In a quick walk-through, Maverick Citizen found the hospital practically empty, apart from the inpatients.

Rahima Moosa Hospital and Charlotte Maxeke Hospital had similarly tense scenes, but services continued to be accessible.

At Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital, no cars were allowed to enter or leave and staff had to walk to a nearby mall to get transport.

Rahima Moosa health workers said they were able to deliver services despite protests outside, which included the burning of tyres and some union members entering wards and threatening staff. 

Some staff left out of fear. “We are aware that things could change any minute,” said one doctor.

Eastern Cape

nehawu livingstone

Nehawu members protest at Livingstone Hospital, Eastern Cape an 7 March 2023. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

In the Eastern Cape, maternity services at Dora Nginza Hospital were placed in jeopardy as only one nurse was available to help obstetricians who run two 24-hour theatres at the hospital where 800 deliveries are done a month.

Health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the Nehawu strike had led to major disruptions in the delivery of provincial health services, including the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

“Emergency medical services in the metro were affected by burning tyres on the access roads to Livingstone Hospital. At the moment there is no road blockage to Dora Nginza Hospital.

“Critical maternity services are being done at Dora Nginza, sharing the work amongst district hospitals in the metro,” said Dekeda.

“There is staff in place, including the nursing services at the maternity ward. However, there is only skeleton staff at all public hospitals and clinics within the metro.

“Fifteen clinics have been closed in Nelson Mandela Bay. We are working with police to ensure that criminal acts are dealt with appropriately,” she said.

“The situation is dire at the moment,” a senior source in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) said.

“Employees are being intimidated. It is day two now. It has massive, massive, serious impact. The issues at hand… I can say they are justified. We don’t want them to use our pension to pay for Eskom. People can’t go in and out at any hospitals in the metro,” he added.

nehawu mthatha

The Emergency Medical Services base in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, was shut down by protesting workers on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

At Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, angry Nehawu members stormed into the EMS call centre on Tuesday to clear the offices of workers and shut the premises down.

Nehawu members said they did not want to see anyone working and no ambulance would be allowed to transport any patients until their demands were met.

Some of the pregnant women who were due to give birth in Mthatha Hospital were told to leave the facility due to the strike.

Families who arrived at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and Mthatha General Hospital to collect the bodies of their loved ones from mortuaries were also turned away by the protesting Nehawu members.

Mphikelwa Holoholo, 59, from Lusikisiki, was among those left stranded after being told that he was not permitted to enter the hospital premises to collect the body of a relative.

“I came here to Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in the morning to collect my nephew’s body, Philani Holoholo,” one family member said.

“We were told by the Nehawu workers that we are not going to be allowed to collect the body until their demands are met… they told us that the body can stay there until the end of this month if the government fails to increase their money.”

“We are returning to Lusikisiki without our son’s body,” another distressed person said. 

“It’s painful because we are still grieving for the passing of our son, but we are being told that we are not going to get his body. This situation, it’s really painful to us as families,” one family member added.

Three mortuary vehicles were turned away from the hospital on Tuesday.  

Clinics around Mthatha were also closed on Tuesday and Nehawu members threatened to shut down everything by Wednesday morning at Mthatha General and Mthatha Academic hospitals.

At Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London, ambulances were turned away. 

Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha was barricaded, with protesters burning tyres in the access road. The police fired teargas grenades and rubber bullets at protesters to disperse the crowd. 


nehawu kzn

The Goodwill Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal was closed. (Photo: Supplied)

All Pietermaritzburg hospitals were reportedly barricaded. 

“We have doctors on the inside and have relieved all personnel. However, there are no nurses and food and medication for patients… it’s a problem. Children on ward diets have not been fed since 6pm yesterday,” a health worker reported on Tuesday.

Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg said pharmacy staff were prevented from entering, but interns living on the hospital premises tried to dispense meds.

The Amaoti Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal was closed and patients were turned away. (Photo: Supplied)

Also closed on Tuesday were Amaoti Clinic, Goodwin’s Clinic, Inanda Community Health Centre, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital, East Boom Clinic, Edendale Hospital, Northdale Hospital, Howick Clinic, Midlands Umngeni Psychiatric Hospital, KwaMashu Community Health Centre and KwaMashu Poly Clinic.

Northern Cape

Protesters reportedly tried to set Robert Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley alight on Tuesday, but failed. 

Western Cape

Armed private guards assisted police in escorting doctors one at a time into Khayelitsha. Ambulances were also barred from entering and exiting the hospital premises until the police intervened.


Nurses and administrative staff closed the Musina hospital on Tuesday barricading the entrance gates. Nehawu members also gathered at the entrance of the Lebowakgomo Legislature and government offices in Polokwane. Nurses at Sekororo hospital outside Tzaneen in the Mopani district also protested, turning patients away at the entrance.


Services were interrupted at Evander Hospital. Services were also disrupted at Rob Ferreira Hospital, and only the emergency unit was allowed to operate while other sections remained closed.

The entrance to the hospital was blocked by rocks and waste, making it difficult for patients and visitors to enter or leave. Several patients had to return home unattended. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    I really thought that it was illegal for nurses to strike… and if not, it should be. Genuine health care worker with a “calling” would never strike! These mattes must be resolved without striking! Despicable behavior by people who chase the money!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    What worries me is that nurses and doctors in SA’s public hospitals are poorly paid and never was this so evident than during COVID where the medical profession in these hospitals went above and beyond for little more than the banging of pots each evening!
    Our Public Health Service needs to be realigned and rebooted – if 3 TrillionRand has been stolen from the fiscus by the ANC connections then perhaps some of that needs to be recovered and used to upgrade Public Health!

  • GPJ GPJ says:

    How can they even consider national health insurance while trade unions have this much power?

  • Georg Scharf Scharf says:

    All part of a failed state. This would and should not happen in a civilized state. If deaths could be proven, the top Nehawu leaders should be charged for murder and culpable homicide. By the way, would this still happen in the NHI that is envisaged? This makes the NHI vision utterly ridiculous. Dream on ANC, dream on.

  • James Francis says:

    If people riot because they have no water and their children get shot in the street with stray bullets, the police show up and hit them with gas and rubber. But if our lazy nurses decide to strike, they get free rein. How to become a criminal with immunity? Go study for a nursing license.

  • Tina Botes says:

    Medical staff take an oath to do no harm. The harm caused here cannot be measured. No work, no pay is simply not good enough of a punishment. Their faces are known, lay criminal charges for grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, murder and child abuse.

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