By Keletso Mkhwanazi

The Gauteng Department of Health has condemned violent and disruptive actions at health facilities following the ongoing strike by National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). A week ago, the strikers were confronted by angry community members outside the Rahima Moosa Hospital in Westbury, in Johannesburg, where they were seen burning tyres outside the facility.

At another facility, South Rand Hospital in Rosettenville, gates were locked out for walk-in patients due to fear of attack by protesting trade union members. Meanwhile, spokesperson for the National Health Departmental Foster Mohale said the department has noted with concern the violent and disruptive actions by some members of the union at some health facilities around the country, adding that this has affected access to some facilities, mainly major hospitals in Pretoria.

He said that the department respects the right to strike by members of the trade unions as enshrined in the Constitution of the country. However, such rights should not violate the constitutional rights of others to life and access to healthcare.

“Any form of violence and intimidation directed at health workers, patients, and infrastructure is condemned in the strongest terms”. Mohale also said the department is working closely with the provincial health authorities and law enforcement agencies to monitor the situation. These measures will ensure rapid response and necessary urgent interventions to minimize the impact of the strike on the provision of essential health services.

“The participation of employees rendering essential services or maintenance services in the strike during working hours will constitute misconduct, and the principle of “No-Work No Pay” will also be strictly and timeously applied without fear or favour,” said Mohale.

Mohale further said that the affected health facilities include Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Leratong Hospital, and Tembisa Hospital all in Gauteng; Pelonomi and Manapo Hospitals in the Free State, Khayelitsha Hospital in the Western Cape, Tshepong and Moses Kotane Hospitals in the North West, Kimberly and Upington Hospitals in the Northern Cape.

The Gauteng Department of Health obtained a court interdict at the Johannesburg Labour Court against the NEHAWU to stop their members from obstructing the rendering of health services to patients. Gauteng department of health spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said that the department was left with no choice but to seek relief from the courts, given the dire impact of the strike in various facilities where the lives of both patients and staff were under threat.

He explained that some hospitals experienced complete shut down as was the case at  Kopanong, Sebokeng, Thelle Mogoerane, and Bheki Mlangeni where patients were left unattended as striking workers went inside wards ordering staff out of the facilities.

Furthermore, he said that academic hospitals, Charlotte Maxeke and Chris Hani Baragwanath were also negatively impacted, The Gauteng Emergency Medical Services personnel were also threatened from responding to calls and denied access in or out of facilities causing frustration among people in need of emergency medical care.

“The interim interdict is applicable with immediate effect and prevents striking workers from doing anything which directly or indirectly obstructs or impedes access to and from health facilities across the Gauteng province, and damaging any Departmental property whether movable or immovable,” said Modiba.

He explained that the interdict order further prohibits the protesters from barricading entrances or buildings, molesting, assaulting, threatening, or intimidating any member of staff in or outpatients, contractors, visitors, or officials of the Gauteng Department of Health.

Modiba said that initially services had been disrupted across various health facilities, mainly at hospitals with some clinics also impacted, where NEHAWU members staged protests. In some instances, there was damage to both private and public property and both workers and the public were denied entry to health facilities. 

“The South African Police Service has been ordered to take all steps necessary to give effect to the interim interdict including the removal and expulsion of any person obstructing the rendering of services from properties and premises,” he said, adding that the interdict will remain in effect pending the court return date of 20 April 2023.

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