Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


More people will die if Nehawu strike escalates

A nurse says some of the protesters were intimidating them for showing up at work.


As the body count rises due to the public wage protests across the country, patients and healthcare workers fear more lives will be lost if demonstrations intensify and protesters intimidate them again, leaving hospitals to be run by skeleton staff.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday at least four people had died as a result of the ongoing strike action by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).

Phaahla said this was according to preliminary reports which are yet to be investigated to help the department decide the actions to be taken.

‘Lives at risk’

On Thursday, outpatients and healthcare workers were escorted into Gauteng hospitals after having to enter using back doors on Wednesday.

According to a caretaker and daughter of 85-year-old Dinah Moilwa, Merriam Segoa, protesters had no regard for patients who needed urgent care.

“We understand their frustrations and they are valid, but at this point the entire country is going to turn against them, because they are putting our lives at risk.”

Segoa said on Wednesday, protesters had refused doctors and patients entry to the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Joburg and by the time they were allowed to enter, there was noone to assist.

ALSO READ: People’s lives ‘not our responsibility’, says Nehawu leader as strike cripples hospitals

Gauteng hospitals which experienced total shutdown on Wednesday were Kopanong, Sebokeng, Thelle Mogoerane and Bheki Mlangeni.

Patients were allegedly left unattended as striking workers went into wards, ordering staff out of the facilities, with the two academic hospitals, Charlotte Maxeke and Chris Hani Baragwanath, also impacted.

“Imagine going back home with a sick person, who is in excruciating pain. A person we can all see is frail and suffering. Maybe they wanted her to die first to see how bad this is,” Segoa said, as tears filled her eyes.

‘We’re scared’

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if my mom died right here in my arms, because these people did not want us to go inside.

“They are starting to be violent even towards the patients. We get it, we’ve heard them and they should continue fighting for what is theirs, but that should not affect ordinary citizens who are going through the same struggle.”

Holding her daughter’s hand in an effort to calm her down, Moilwa said poverty had turned everyone into something they could not recognise.

READ MORE: ‘They’ll never get it’ – Nehawu’s strike in quest for 10% raise ‘pure foolishness’

“I’m just glad they are giving us access today, only God knows what could’ve happened.”

A nurse who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of being victimised said some of the protesters were intimidating them for showing up at work and not joining the protest.

“On my way to work, a number of protesters who were also on their way to the hospital, called me names and said they would remember me when the government gives them the 10%,” she said.

“We want to support them, but we’re scared that there is no protection, they do not have to force people to join. I’m sure some of the people there are only there because they are forced to be there.”

Arrangements

Charlotte Maxeke hospital chief executive Gladys Bogoshi said a number of healthcare services had been affected, including porters, clerks, hospital cooks, the linen service staff and lab practitioners.

Phaahla said arrangements were being made to reschedule non-emergency services.

“We are aware that in the affected provinces, non-emergency services have to be rescheduled, but nobody who needs emergency attention should be turned back,” Phaahla added.

“Those who are on chronic medication must be assisted to make sure that they don’t run out.”

Meanwhile, the union’s Mandla Mdluli said the protest had no malicious intent and he condemned any reports of violence against patients and workers.

“The community has been led to believe we are criminals; we are closing patients out,” he said.

“We are not. Some of us here are health workers; we understand the pain by patients. Even the patients themselves are saying at least we are giving them access.”

READ NOW: Nehawu strike: Patients at Helen Joseph Hospital told to go home