Maverick Citizen


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

Strikers at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein armed with sjamboks as frazzled, terrified doctors warn that patients will die
A protester with a sjambok stops health workers from entering Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein. (Photo: Supplied)

Clinical teams are being targeted by sjambok-wielding protesters to stop all care, and health workers are sending SOS messages while trying to work in insurmountable conditions, as the countrywide Nehawu wage strike enters its second day.

This image shows striking workers at Free State’s Pelonomi Hospital, one with a sjambok, intimidating health workers to discourage them from entering the hospital. A health worker messaged Daily Maverick saying that they were being “threatened by sjambok while pushing the patient inside the hospital for a lifesaving procedure”. A doctor said all clinical teams are being targeted to stop all care. 

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

A strike interdict has failed to stop a national strike that doctors warn is getting deadly. The Nehawu wage strike has entered its second day across the country, with increasing reports of people dying, desperation, suffering and calls for help coming in thick and fast from exhausted health workers at the coalface.  

“You should see what is happening here, dead bodies mixed with alive ones, only God knows when did they die, no one to move them, no food, etc.”

A deserted nurse’s station at Pelomoni Hospital, Bloemfontein, Free State. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Patients mill about at Pelomoni Hospital, Bloemfontein, Free State. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Pelomoni Hospital is deserted. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

No patients or staff at Pelomoni Hospital’s usually overflowing trauma unit. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

At Pelonomi, doctors and other health workers sent these SOS messages to Daily Maverick as their pleas fell on deaf ears in government:

 “Is there a way that police vans/security can assist hemodialysis patients to come through? They are going to die if they don’t get dialysis.

“No staff in ICU.”

“No staff in the surgical ICU. Ward 7A and 7B one sister.”

“There are two protesters with sjamboks at the turnstile – they should be removed!”

“You should see what is happening here, dead bodies mixed with alive ones, only God knows when did they die, no one to move them, no food, etc.”

“The situation is volatile at Pelonomi. Nurses were forcefully removed from the wards. Picketing has started on the premises.”

“Pelonomi will appreciate help as kitchens are empty. We have been supplying food ourselves.”

“No surgery today.”

Discarded rubbish at Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State. (Photo: Supplied)

Deserted nurse’s station at Pelomoni Hospital, Bloemfontein, Free State. (Photo: Magdel Louw)

Strike ground zero

Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein is fast turning into the ground zero of the strike, as it has a long history of being a site of struggle. Reports of Nehawu protestors sjambokking workers who wish to report for duty, and desperate pleas from doctors for help to feed, turn, medicate and comfort patients seem to be falling on deaf ears. 

Several health workers at the hospital called for the SA National Defence Force to be deployed to assist in the hospitals that have been hardest hit.

Read on Daily Maverick: Too early to call in the army, Health Department says as hospitals buckle under violent protests

Another health worker posted on a WhatsApp group: “We currently have an emergency caesarean section being performed in Bloem (Pelonomi or Universitas) where the entire team, including the scrub sister duty being performed by a doctor, and medical officers doing their best, so that both patients can have at least a chance at survival.”

Mofumahadi Manapo Mopeli Regional Hospital in Phuthaditjhaba, three hours from Bloemfontein and closer to Bethlehem, also reported protests and was closed off from Monday. Universitas Hospital in Bloemfontein was having major protests, with reports of ambulances slowly getting in and out. 

Health workers are desperately crowdfunding to buy bread, butter and syrup for patients who have not eaten. 


Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


Outside Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State. (Photo: Supplied)

Doctor’s Pelonomi testimony: 

“It is horrendous; anyone doing clinical work is being targeted.” 

“The Strike was unexpected. It started at 12am two nights ago, when I saw footage sent by junior doctors of burning tyres in front of the trauma gate.”

Since then it’s been horrendous, the protestors seem to be targeting anyone who is doing clinical work.

“I’m a loyal public servant, this is my passion, I want to give young doctors an opportunity to serve a vulnerable community. But what I’ve seen in the last two days has frightened them. We’ve had to send doctors home who are frightened for their lives.

“Last night a paediatric surgeon had to hand out all the food and medicines at the paediatric burns unit, she stayed on her own all evening because she couldn’t leave the patients.

“In another part of the hospital, two young doctors were locked in without any support, it was too dangerous to leave, eventually we had to send their husbands to get them when we thought it was safe.

“The theatre staff had to open the schedule 5 and 6 drugs cupboard to get medicines because all the pharmacy staff are so intimidated that they have gone home.

“In the emergency C-section, we have only one nurse serving six theatres. 

“At Universitas all the theatre staff are working in the wards; all the care is being provided by students… 

Pelonomi is the main referral hospital in the Free State, but it’s totally shut down.

“At Universitas, we have stopped all elective surgery.

“We have food until Thursday, after that we don’t know what we will do if the strike continues. At Pelonomi no patients have received food except what doctors have bought from their own pockets…

“The nursing staff who have remained on duty are INCREDIBLE.

“It’s hard to quantify the lives lost at this stage, but the damage is great. There are delayed referrals, delayed diagnoses, wounds going septic… I’m worried about the lasting effect on the young doctors. They are frightened. I see it in their eyes. They wake up in the morning and ask: is this really for me?

“This might be too much for an already crippled health system… How long will it take us to recover?

“We do understand why people are unhappy; nurses are not remunerated in a sustainable way… but the human cost of this strike is too much.”

Inside Pelonomi

Journalist Magdel Louw managed to gain access to Pelonomi late morning on Tuesday. “It is dire inside the hospital,” she said. Louw observed that patients were not receiving treatment, nurses stations were empty, nurses were absent and pharmacies were closed.

Louw said nurses who tried to work were being intimidated and threatened and health workers did not wear their uniforms in the hope of not being as noticeable. Doctors were working around the clock.

Louw was also trying to get confirmation of reports that babies in ICU were not receiving milk as there were no nurses to feed them and nobody to prepare the formula milk.

Free State Health Department Comment

Mondli Mvambi, spokesperson for Free State Department of Health confirmed that protestors were intimidating workers wanting to work at Pelonomi.  “Nurses who may not want to be part of the strike are intimidated because they (protestors) are not keeping a distance of 150 meters away from the facility. They are blocking the entrance, I also had to use a different entrance, because I felt that if you want to drive through people that are singing at the gate, that might be seen as an act of aggression or provocation. So I’m concerned that even though they will not be stopping people, services are not going on in the hospital. And that is not good enough for the healthcare system”

Mvambi said security personnel had been deployed to protect those who were trying to get food to patients as strikers entered the hospital and tried to stop them.  

“They [those striking] walk inside in groups, I was walking around the hospital I felt intimidated myself. So it’s a catch-22 situation, you cannot bar them from using facilities (toilets) but their mere presence can be seen as an act of intimidation, to those that want to distribute food. You don’t know what’s happening. You don’t want to find yourself in a physical confrontation with anyone who is striking.”

Mvambi confirmed that at some facilities, like in Manapo and QwaQwa, ambulances couldn’t enter as the entrances have been barricaded, .

“We are looking forward to the end of the strike because it is a disaster. We cannot pretend that it is not a disastrous situation to those who care about the health of the people. I’m sitting with the CEO of the hospital and he is very frustrated. He is a hard-working man who is not used to sitting in a boardroom planning how to combat a strike and getting alternative assistance. The nurses that you are getting from outside, when they walk into the wards they are being taken out by those that are striking so it’s a fruitless futile exercise.” DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jeremy Hollmann says:

    Where is law enforcement?

  • howardmollison says:

    Slowly but surely our race to the bottom accelerates.

  • Helen Swingler says:

    Can Gift of the Givers move into this space? They’re needed, urgently.

  • Spurgeon Flemington says:


  • Terence Beney says:

    Free State health department spokesperson, hapless and helpless, “looking forward to the end of the strike.” No plan, no action. No decisiveness. No leadership.

  • Ingrid Kemp says:

    and more & more quality professionals will leave our country

  • William Stucke says:

    Disgusting behaviour.

    The fact that our totally dysfunctional Department of Health may or may not be underpaying does not excuse this kind of violence and intimidation. These people need to be criminally charged with culpable homicide for every patient that dies due to their denial of care.

  • virginia crawford says:

    NEHAWU has been a problem for decades and yet as part of the tripartite alliance, they have a lot of power. Interesting that when unarmed miners went on strike in Marikana, deadly force was deployed to protect profits, but these thugs are left to roam around and intimidate people? And they should be prosecuted and fired! How do you work alongside some one who was ready to assault the day before? NEHAWU don’t care about patients, they care about their access to eat – the theft from hospitals is appalling and I’m sure lots of dodgy tenders go to NEHAWU directly or indirectly. Law enforcement should go in with dogs – they could use a water cannon on SASSA pensioners, but not strikers?

  • Annemarie Reis says:

    Only when our elected officials are compelled to use these hospitals in stead of private facilities will there be significant changes.

  • Ivan van Heerden says:

    Viva Comrades of the ANC! You must be so proud of your efforts to uplift communities. No money for an increase but plenty of money for VIP protection, generators and water supply for morbidly obese ministers.

    I absolutely do not support the actions of the strikers but one must not forget that 30 years of looting by the ANC has led us to this point, no other reason.

  • Dr Know says:

    Whether any patient dies or not, the charge is conspiracy to commit murder. Plenty of photographic evidence to identify the culprits. Arrest, prosecute and jail these barbarians until they are old enough to be harmless. This is barbaric and cannot be tolerated. Do they think that after the strike they can just slide back into their old jobs? Rubicon moment . .

  • Graeme J says:

    The barbarians are now beyond the gates. They are now inside Pelonomi hospital.

  • Claerwen Howie says:

    Where is law enforcement/the police/ the army? This strike action is appalling and shows NO concern about the welfare of doctors, health workers and patients. The whole episode – which seems to spiraling out of control – is disgusting. Where are the ‘leaders’ of the ANC? If such people exist!
    Claerwen Howie

  • Max Köhler says:

    No moral fibre left. What do I remember about an oath health workers take?

  • Gregory Scott says:

    And where is the security service provider/s?????
    Thank you ANC for creating this lawlessness and tyranny

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    Good question

  • Johann Olivier says:

    The Great Unravelling. Let’s consider. Utterly hopeless governance – everywhere. Endemic corruption. Gangs. Assassins. Dysfunctional/defunct state entities (police, railways, post office, airline, healthcare, administrative functions, etc, etc). Failing/failed grid. Hanging with Russia and China. GDP in freefall. The Pesos worth more than the Rand. Nero – er – Cyril fiddling while the state self-immolates. Adios Azania.

  • Susan Buekes says:

    Do these strikers not know that a ballot paper is the best way to enable change? But I suppose destroying property is much more fun that queueing to cast a ballot. How will the proposed NHI benefit the citizens of this country if the current system produces the results as described in this report? How will a bloated cabinet change this behaviour and its cause?

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