Maverick Citizen


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

Too early to call in the army, Health Department says as hospitals buckle under violent protests
Striking Nehawu workers in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The Labour Court ordered on Tuesday morning that an interdict stopping the violent strike be implemented immediately, but in many parts of the country, public health services had already been pushed to collapse. Despite this, the Health Department said the minister felt it was too early to call for military intervention.

‘It is too early to seek military intervention,” department spokesperson Foster Mohale said on Tuesday morning while hospital services around the country struggled as a debilitating National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) strike continued for a second day in a row.

In 2010, after the health sector was left on the brink following a lengthy public service strike, the army medical corps were called in to help. They were also deployed during the acute waves of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Concerned doctors and health workers from several provinces reported that amid the violent protests, ambulance services were paralysed, mortuary staff were barred from working, nurses were being removed from their posts by union members and hospital gates being shut. Most hospitals were only performing emergency surgery and running wards on a skeleton staff.

Staff were struggling to distribute food and medicine to patients.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

At Livingstone Hospital in Gqeberha, the police fired rubber bullets at protesters on Tuesday morning.

Around the country, several patients reported being turned away, especially from collecting chronic medicines.

Ambulance services had been paralysed, as were mortuary services.

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According to the strike notice issued by Nehawu, the action was to begin at 6am on Monday and continue indefinitely until the union’s demands were met.

Read in Daily Maverick: Nehawu strike continues despite second interdict, leaving health facilities reeling

Read in Daily Maverick: Wage strike hammers health services across the country

Over the weekend, the department obtained a court order interdicting the strike, but Nehawu applied for leave to appeal against this order. Under the rules of the court, this suspended the first interdict.

On Tuesday morning, a circular sent out by the director-general of the Department of Public Service and Administration, Yoliswa Makhasi, said the department had won another order allowing for the interdict to stand pending an appeal hearing.

A hastily scribbled sign at the EMS base in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, explaining that they are closed due to strike action. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“Therefore, the strike remains interdicted, and any form of work stoppages and pickets by Nehawu and its members will be tantamount to contempt of court and should be managed as such,” the circular read.

Under the circumstances, departments are advised as follows:

  • Any form of work stoppage by officials will constitute misconduct and must be dealt with as such;
  • All acts of service delivery disruptions, including the vandalism and mayhem that was visited upon state institutions by strikers, must be reported to law enforcement agencies with immediate effect; and
  • Departmental legal services must assist in the active execution of the order in instances of contemptuous conduct by institutions or individuals defying the court order.

Mohale said it was too early for Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla to seek intervention from military medics during the strike.

“The department is closely monitoring the situation, working with law enforcement agencies around the country,” he added.

At the time of publication, Nehawu put out a social media post saying it would be appealing the order allowing the department to execute the interdict, and the strike would continue. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Somehow I was hoping from the headline that the army was being called in to disperse the illegal strikers. The police don’t do anything to uphold law and order, so that’s a glimmer of hope extinguished.

  • William Kelly says:

    And we pay tax for this Kieswetter? Show me your moral argument sir!

  • Miles Japhet says:

    No political will and useless leadership. Strikers have a job – they should count themselves lucky – but irresponsible Union bosses have no conscience or sense of social responsibility. They will be judged.

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