Marizka Coetzer
Journalist
3 minute read
7 Mar 2022
6:30 am

SA-based Cuban doctors take home salaries while intern doctors remain unpaid

Marizka Coetzer

The health department continues to pay Cuban doctors high salaries despite expired contracts as intern doctors at Chris Hani remain unpaid.

Cuban doctors who were deployed to South Africa to help fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Lowvelder

The department of health is still paying expert Cuban doctors high salaries despite expired contracts and unemployed local doctors, with many vacant positions left frozen.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng shadow health MEC, Jack Bloom said the department spent R30.3 million on Cuban doctors last year and still employed 14 who earn between R78 000 and R91 000 a month.

Saying the government’s misplaced loyalty to Cuba was outdated, he also claimed 10 intern doctors at the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Academic Hospital were “suffering” as they have not been paid this year.

“They do invaluable work in 12- hour shifts, but things are getting desperate as some of them are going hungry and don’t have money for transport,” said Bloom.

Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi said some Cuban doctors were still employed due to a government-to-government agreement by South Africa in 1996. She confirmed 14 Cuban doctors were at primary health care facilities.

“Cuba as a country is known for having the best health outcomes and its experience in prevention and health promotion would assist in strengthening the district health system,” she said.

“The Cuban National Doctors also serve as mentors and coaches for the doctors who are placed at primary health care facilities, especially the South African Cuban-trained doctors.”

Bloom said the contract for the 28 Cuban doctors employed in May 2020 for a one-year contract expired in May last year.

“It is disappointing that the department still employs 14 of them when local doctors are unemployed,” he said, adding some Cuban doctors didn’t speak English well and were not familiar with local health conditions.

“I can’t see these Cuban doctors doing anything the local doctors couldn’t do,” he said.

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Bloom said the department should spend on South Africans rather than waste on Cuban doctors and that expensive Cuban medical training was being probed for suspected corruption.

“It’s no surprise, but there is something deeply fishy about this because we have unemployed local doctors and unfilled medical posts,” he said.

He said health care staff who worked during the pandemic will be laid off at the end of the month.

“There are vacant posts, why are we not filling them but we spending money on Cuban doctors?” he asked.

AfriForum’s campaign officer Reinier Duvenage said there was a long history of extremely questionable cooperation and relations between South Africa and Cuba. 

“We saw this during the Covid [pandemic], the scandal where Cuban medical personnel employed to fight the pandemic which costs millions of rands while our doctors remained unemployed,” he said.

Duvenage said SA also saw it with the water engineering scandal when the government announced they would employ Cuban water engineers to sort out the country’s water infrastructure. 

“At the end of the day, we have good engineers in that field, it’s just very questionable,” he said.

Duvenage said not to forget the SA National Defence Force had irregularly procured Covid drugs worth R228 million they had to return.

“The new [R50 million] donation to Cuba is just the next event in this very troubling series of events,” he said.

Duvenage said the donation to Cuba was a massive insult to citizens. “We have a serious problem here with poverty and the government was just forsaking its citizens and donating this money to another company,” he said.