Maverick Citizen

LIMPOPO HEALTH MEC

Unrepentant Phophi Ramathuba to face second inquiry over xenophobic rant at Zimbabwean patient

Unrepentant Phophi Ramathuba to face second inquiry over xenophobic rant at Zimbabwean patient
Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba. (Photo: Flickr)

Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba is yet to face the music as she has been summoned to appear before another inquiry into her professional conduct following a ‘dehumanising diatribe’ against a patient.

Controversial Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba will face an inquiry in July relating to her xenophobic rant at a Zimbabwean patient in August 2022.

Ramathuba’s tirade was captured on video and went viral on social media at the time. In the video, Ramathuba is seen berating a sick woman in a hospital bed in Bela-Bela, believed to be an undocumented foreign national. 

When the woman says she speaks Shona, Ramathuba starts to lecture the woman, saying: “You are supposed to be with [Zimbabwean President Emmerson] Mnangagwa; you know he doesn’t give me money to operate. And I’m operating with my limited budget.” 

She does this in front of an entourage that had joined her on the hospital visit. While the patient has no opportunity to respond fully, Ramathuba continues in what has been widely slammed as a bullying and “dehumanising diatribe”. The woman, who is not identified in the video, is told by Ramathuba that she will not be discharged till she settles her bill. Ramathuba then quips that she’s not “running a charity department” for Zimbabweans crossing the border.

In January this year, Ramathuba, a medical doctor, was sanctioned by the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s (HPCSA’s) Medical and Dental Professions Board. The board found there was evidence of unprofessional conduct by Ramathuba in violation of regulations under the Health Professions Act and imposed a penalty of “caution and reprimand” on her. 

It found Ramathuba’s behaviour of “shouting at a patient’s bedside — who was vulnerable at the time” as “unprofessional and unbecoming” of a medical professional.

Ramathuba rejected the January findings and the sanction, according to the HPCSA’s legal adviser, Viceroy Maoka. As such, she will have to appear before the Medical and Dental Board’s Professional Conduct Committee in Pretoria. The inquiry is open to the public and has been set down for 25-27 July. 

Defiant and unapologetic

Since the incident, Ramathuba has been defiant and unapologetic, stating that her priority is to reserve budgets and resources for South African citizens. She was backed up by the ANC in Limpopo. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa, answering questions in Parliament shortly after the incident, side-stepped the issue, saying the “important issue that is currently under debate — raised in the presence of a patient, I guess… could have been raised in another way”.

There has been widespread condemnation of Ramathuba’s conduct including from the health profession unions Nehawu and Hospersa. The embassy of Zimbabwe in Pretoria also raised a complaint through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation

Read more in Daily Maverick: Health Professions Council of SA sanctions Limpopo MEC Phophi Ramathuba over xenophobic diatribe

The ongoing HPCSA inquiry against Ramathuba stems from a complaint against her by Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (Kaax) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). The complaint is supported by seven other civil society organisations, including the Treatment Action Campaign, SECTION27 and the Helen Suzman Foundation.

The original complaint laid with the HPCSA extends to complaints against the other medical practitioners, shown in the video, “who stood by and watched the MEC violate the patient’s rights and dignity”.

The human rights groups also charge that Ramathuba abused her power as MEC and was untruthful in her message “that foreigners are to blame for poor healthcare service delivery and that foreigners are overburdening the healthcare system”. 

According to Kaax and LHR, the “MEC was misleading with her statement claiming foreign nationals and undocumented migrants are not catered for in her budget allocation. The allocation based on population, in any effect, only forms a small percentage of how the budget is allocated.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zimbabwe healthcare: Is it as bad as Phophi Ramathuba claims?

The civil society groups are calling for Ramathuba to be removed from the HPCSA’s register if found guilty and that she be fined and be liable for all costs. They’ve also called for an investigation to determine the identities of the healthcare professionals who were with Ramathuba at the patients’ bedside but failed to stand up for the patient — so they can also face disciplinary action.

“We believe that sanctions against the MEC and those healthcare professionals who stood by, need to serve as a deterrent against similar actions by other politicians and healthcare professionals from acting in this detrimental and unethical manner against patients,” states the complaint.

Sharon Ekambaram, the head of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Project at LHR, says the follow-through of Ramathuba being called to appear before the HPCSA in July is a clear message that due processes must be followed.  

“Bodies like the Health Professions Council must be there to ensure that our democracy works for everyone and in particular for the most vulnerable in society,” she says. She adds that this is important as the MEC has shown no self-reflection or contrition for how she treated another human being.  

Ekambaram says the MEC’s messaging in the video has to be challenged for being a deflection from getting to the bottom of the crises in the Limpopo health system. 

“The whole objective of that exercise of assaulting the patient and being videoed was to detract from the excessive levels of corruption in the Limpopo Department of Health. By shifting the attention to migrants, no one is holding Ramathuba’s department to account and exposing that resources are being swindled away from investment in public health.”   

Neil Shikwambana, the director of communications in the Limpopo Health Department of Health, says the MEC “maintains her commitment to cooperate with the HPCSA”, but he says Ramathuba has not been contacted by the HPCSA.  

He says: “The HPCSA is yet to invite her to the inquiry on a date that is still to be determined. She is shocked to hear from Maverick Citizen that the matter will be held in July, just like she heard from the media regarding the outcomes of the preliminary inquiry.” 

Shikwambana did not answer questions on the costs to taxpayers of getting the MEC to come before the council, but said: “Since the HPCSA chose the public gallery to be their route to deal with the matter, the MEC, therefore, refuse[s] to be dragged into that route.” DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles du Sautoy says:

    We are happy enough to employ Zimbabweans; in our homes, on our farms, and in our factories. Often at a wage that a South Arican worker would not accept. But heaven forbid one of their number falls ill and needs our care…

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