They risk their own lives to respond to desperate calls for help to save lives. But now, the lives of Emergency Management Services (EMS) personnel are increasingly in danger from thugs who attack them while on duty. Some say their jobs seemed unappreciated, despite the sacrifices they make to work day and night to save lives. Save for the Eastern Cape, which kept some statistics, no records of attacks against EMS staff are kept by provinces. With no help from authorities, the paramedics are fighting back by withdrawing their help. Their leaders have urged the government to establish a department…
They risk their own lives to respond to desperate calls for help to save lives.
But now, the lives of Emergency Management Services (EMS) personnel are increasingly in danger from thugs who attack them while on duty.
Some say their jobs seemed unappreciated, despite the sacrifices they make to work day and night to save lives.
Save for the Eastern Cape, which kept some statistics, no records of attacks against EMS staff are kept by provinces.
With no help from authorities, the paramedics are fighting back by withdrawing their help. Their leaders have urged the government to establish a department focusing on EMS workers and the dangers they face.
In June, Joburg EMS was forced to briefly suspend ambulance services to Cosmo City, north of Johannesburg, after three crew members were attacked by a mob.
At the time, City of Joburg EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the ambulance crews would not enter an area unless it was safe to do so.
“Service will remain suspended until the area is deemed safe for EMS personnel to render this essential service,” he said.
On Monday, October 7, an Emergency Management Services crew cancelled an after-midnight call and withdrew from the scene when they realised that they were about to be attacked at Mlaba Village in Ethekwini, KwaZulu-Natal.
They were treating a burnt child when a group of men, some drunk, began shouting and swearing at them. The attackers threw stones at the vehicle as it was driving off.
The South African Emergency Personnel Union (Saepu) complained about the failure of KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu to engage them to discuss escalating violence against paramedics.
But in the Eastern Cape, health MEC Sindiswa Gomba responded positively after complaints from Saepu about attacks against EMS personnel in Port Elizabeth. The MEC made an emergency visit to the area and spoke to personnel and authorities to understand the severity of the problem.
The union was prompted into action when a crew was attacked on September 24 at Motherwell health centre. The personnel were robbed at gunpoint while transporting two patients to Livingstone Hospital. They were waiting at traffic lights when three armed men opened the driver’s door and grabbed the ambulance keys and all personal belongings.
According to Saepu, it was disturbing that the attacks on EMS workers continued while government was doing nothing.
The union said the problem had reached a crisis level and being a paramedic was among the most dangerous jobs.
Saepu president Mpho Mpogeng blamed health authorities, particularly the health minister and provincial MECs, for lack of action.
“It’s very frustrating because their silent treatment creates allegations or assumptions that they are the ones sending the thugs to attack EMS personnel so that they can privatise EMS to the pockets of their comrades,” Mpogeng said.
“The EMS unit is being attacked in their presence without them bothering to take a single action other than sending condemnation statements.
“Their statements are not enough because the country is on fire. Let them prove us wrong by taking only one step to help us.”
He claimed none of the provincial MECs or even the minister, had a tangible plan to deal with EMS personnel attacks.
The union is worried that the violence against its members was also affecting poor communities who relied on public health system for services.
Mpogeng said numerous cases were reported to the police, but there was no action from authorities.
“When we do follow-ups we find that no arrests have been made,” Mpogeng said.
What paramedics say
- We go for the love of our job, but for how long must it continue to risk our lives before something is done for our safety. – Sylvia Khoape, a paramedic from Meadowlands in Soweto.
- We have had enough of being victims of horrible violence and gang rapes while on duty. We love our jobs, but our lives are important to us. – Jozi paramedic who preferred to remain anonymous.
- The saddest incident was when two female EMS personnel were raped at Durban Deep, Roodepoort, in 2010. They were attacked while treating a toddler burnt in a fire. The women were dragged out of the ambulance before being stripped naked, forced to do oral sex on their attackers and then raped repeatedly.
- In July 2012, the High Court in Johannesburg sentenced their assailants to eight life terms each for the rapes. Richard Tshifhiwa Luruli and Michael Khorombi received an additional 35 years for other crimes, which included compelling a passer-by to rape the women at gunpoint.
Where thugs attack
- Attacks seemed to be prevalent around EMS centres around Odi Hospital in Mabopane, Gauteng, and Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
- Attackers often lurked at street corners and traffic lights, or followed vehicles when they go to fetch patients.
- The area around Dora Nginza Hospital has been targeted.
- A R123-million new EMS state-of-the-art building was opened early this year with the hope of improving service delivery, but robbers identified the areas around the centre to target EMS personnel.
- The hospital was among several that benefitted from 178 new ambulances purchased by the provincial health department, but they seem to have attracted thugs.
According to City of Joburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi, since an incident in June in Cosmo City, the city had decided to provide police escorts for EMS personnel. “We identified hot spots and worked with the Saps and JMPD, who go with staff to the dangerous areas,” Malaudzi said. Attacks had dropped after the escorts were introduced, he claimed. “We began community awareness campaigns about the importance of our personnel’s work at churches, hostels and other strategic areas. “We pleaded with residents to work closely with our personnel,” Mulaudzi said. He cited a 2010 case when some personnel were raped in Durban Deep, Roodepoort, as the worst incident to happen in Gauteng. However, no similar incident has since been reported.
In a report for 2019, Saepu said the attacks have been increasing throughout the country since 2016. Here are some statistics for the year:
- September 6 – A crew was attacked and robbed off their belongings while responding to an emergency in Nyanga, Western Cape.
- August 17 – A crew was attacked while attending to a patient in Lusaka in Theunissen, Free State.
- July 31 – An unknown person attacked a paramedic with a brick which nearly cost him his ear while transporting a patient from Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital to Fochville,Gauteng.
- June 29 – In Cosmo City in Gauteng, a crew was responding to a call and on the process community members turned against them demanding to burn the patients alleging that he had killed someone in the community.
- June 27 – An attack on EMS personnel took place in Cardham, Phoenix in Kwazulu-Natal.
- June 26 – A crew was robbed at gunpoint by unknown men in Soweto.
- June 20 – A crew was robbed at gunpoint while attending to a call in Phoenix Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
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