NEHAWU DEATH STRIKE DAY FIVE
Health official ‘abducted’, doctor manhandled as interdict does little to quell violence
Despite an interdict from the Mbombela High Court, Nehawu members continued their strike in Mpumalanga, with a doctor manhandled and a district manager allegedly abducted, while the strike action continued in other parts of the country too.
On Friday, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) continued its strike for a fifth day, affecting health services across the country.
Maverick Citizen has been contacted by doctors, nurses, health workers and patients across the country about the strike and the impact it has had on their lives.
The Mpumalanga health department obtained an interdict against the strikers from the Mbombela High Court on Thursday night, but this has done little to stop the strike.
A doctor was manhandled by Nehawu members at Buffelshoek Clinic in Bushbuckridge while she was doing outreach work to primary healthcare facilities. Department spokesperson Chris Nobela confirmed the incident, adding that “we are busy with an investigation to get to the bottom of what has transpired”.
Welcome Mnisi, the secretary for Nehawu in Mpumalanga, could neither confirm nor deny the incident: “We have heard about this incident but we do not know if it is Nehawu members. We have dispatched our regional leadership to get closer to the space in Bohlabela region because Bushbuckridge is under that region.
“Members of Nehawu know how to conduct themselves during strike action. Whatever is being done should not violate the rights of others, including workers.”
Nobela also confirmed that the department was investigating an incident where a female intern was beaten by a striking official in Embhuleni on Tuesday.
Nobela denied reports that Nehawu members in Mpumalanga abducted David Mdluli, the husband of the acting head of the health department, Dudu Mdluli. “I just spoke to him. Union members came and he interacted with regard to the strike, but the manager is in the office now. It is not an abduction.”
Mnisi too denied the reports: “We have established that it was not an abduction per se. The comrades went with the district director [Mr Mdluli] to Rob Ferreira Hospital to do an inspection about the conditions at the hospital. Maybe those that reported it thought that it was a kidnapping, but it was not, Mr Mdluli is safe.”
However, a source with knowledge of the situation told Daily Maverick the incident was being watered down, saying Mdluli, a district manager in Ehlanzeni, was taken to various facilities and forced to close the services at these facilities.
“Security at the district office followed and managed to rescue him from this thuggery of what is going on in Mpumalanga,” the source said. “They told him that the reason they are doing it is that his wife and the department had got a court order against them last night.”
At 6am, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital had one ICU nurse taking care of 18 patients. There were only three nurses in the paediatric burns unit, and all the nursing staff from the trauma intensive care unit, leaving no one to care for the seven patients.
ICU medical officers and consultants were helping with nursing duties.
At about 7am, cars were allowed through the main gate, but pedestrians were not.
Fewer than 12 Nehawu members sat at the gate while ambulances drove in as usual. Patients were also able to gain easy access to the hospital.
Read in Daily Maverick: “In photos – the chaos sweeping South Africa, and the patients bearing the brunt”
On Thursday, Lehlohonolo Tseeke, a Nehawu shop steward at Bheki Mlangeni Hospital, told Daily Maverick that union leaders had asked striking workers to “tone it down”.
Daily Maverick went in search of the rest of the Nehawu members who had been at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital main gate for most of the week, and found dozens gathered at the Soweto district offices in Pimville.
While the gates were open at Sebokeng Hospital, staff were scared to enter and work.
On Friday morning there were a few picketers outside Khayelitsha Hospital and Michael Mapongwana Community Health Clinic, according to Mark van der Heever, spokesperson for the provincial health department. No disruption of services was reported.
“The protest action is still ongoing across the country, but we continue to call on the striking members to respect our clients’ human right to access healthcare services and to allow our staff to care for the ill and vulnerable,” said Van der Heever.
“We have established a good relationship with labour unions which has enabled us to put the lives of our patients first.”
Three protesters were arrested in Pelonomi Hospital on Thursday, while protesters were reportedly inside the hospital on Friday morning, intimidating patients and staff.
Nehawu members were set to march during the provincial budget speech from Unisa on Langalibalele Street to the provincial legislature. There were reports of protests at Ekuhlengeni Psychiatric Hospital.
There were reports of clashes between security teams and protesters at Nelson Mandela Academic and Mthatha hospitals, as well as disruptions at Lady Grey Hospital.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Strikers shot with rubber bullets at Mthatha hospital”
On Thursday, no patients were allowed into Zithulele Hospital after protesters locked the gate. The situation appeared to be better on Friday morning, although trouble was reportedly brewing.
Health Professions Council issues condemnation
The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has strongly condemned the violence and intimidation against healthcare workers countrywide during the strike.
“The council condemns the behaviour by some striking workers, as the continuation of such acts will affect the provision of healthcare services to the public,” said council president, Professor Simon Nemutandani.
“Workers have a right to embark on peaceful strike action without compromising the lives and well-being of healthcare workers, patients and members of the public.” DM/MC