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Cape Town - Patients who depend on Gugulethu Community Health Clinic say they are too frightened to visit the clinic because robbers terrorise them there and steal their valuables and medicines.
They say they have long been aware that they risk being mugged outside the clinic, but the situation has deteriorated with criminals now even attacking people inside it.
Last week, trainee UCT physiotherapists were robbed while waiting for their transport outside the clinic at the neighbouring Thembalethu Special Needs School. The women fled into the clinic, chased by armed men who snatched their cellphones and handbags.
Police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said: “We can confirm that there was a robbery outside the clinic, and the police are investigating. No arrests had been made so far.”
The school’s staff also confirmed the robbery, saying that it was the second incident in six weeks.
In the previous robbery, armed young men jumped over the school’s fence and robbed trainee medical students – “leaving all of us at the school terrified and deeply traumatised”, said a staff member who did not want to be named.
The provincial Department of Health said it had no knowledge of robberies inside the clinic but was aware of a spate of robberies outside it.
Health Department spokesman Sithembiso Magubane said that robberies outside the facility were an ongoing problem.
“The facility manager has reported this on numerous occasions to the police. It has been taken up with the health forum of Gugulethu and the ward councillor was also informed,” Magubane said.
Hawkers who sell food outside the clinic said that robbers – who are known as amaphara-phara – used to hang around before pouncing on unsuspecting patients. But now they loitered in front of the clinic and were unafraid of the clinic’s security guards.
“They are not scared of anybody. When those trainee doctors were robbed they were standing right in front of us and the security guards were not even 2m away,” said one hawker who did not wish to be named.
“But it’s like they don’t care about anyone around them. They’ve become law unto themselves. They are so bold that they tell us to mind our own business as they are also trying to make a living by robbing people.
“We all live in constant fear – nobody is safe, especially us as we deal with cash every day.”
A young man, who was partly disembowelled by a robber in a revenge attack in March, said his sin was protecting his aunt. “He threatened my aunt and I called him to order. I beat him up because he was being disrespectful, but he then attacked me when I was least expecting it.”
Patients were too afraid to be named and photographed for fear of reprisals.
“It has become so scary coming to the clinic that you have to be very ill to take a risk. If I have a minor illness I prefer treating it at home,” said a woman who gave her name as Sindiswa.
“That’s better than risking my life. But there are times when one is forced to come to the clinic, especially those who are on chronic medication and have to be here every month.
“We live like prisoners in our own neighbourhoods. Reporting the criminals doesn’t help because they get arrested today and tomorrow they are back,” she said.
“We don’t know what to do. You never see the police patrolling the area, despite the attacks.”
Magubane said it was standard practice for clients to be searched when they entered the clinic.
Health MEC Theuns Botha said he would address the matter with Community Safety MEC Dan Plato and that the crime problems in the surrounds of the Gugulethu clinic would be taken up with the police.