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Cape Town - Gugulethu residents have called for security at Gugulethu community health centre to be beefed up following a spate of robberies including one in which a heavily pregnant woman was allegedly robbed while waiting to give birth.
Solomzi Booi, a co-ordinator of Khanya Neighbourhood Watch in Gugulethu, said robberies of both patients and their escorts had become so bad lately that some people were now reluctant to use the clinic’s services.
A few weeks ago a pregnant woman, who attended the clinic’s maternity and obstetrics unit was robbed of her cellphone, apparently while in labour. Booi said a man was later apprehended by the neighbourhood watch after the woman identified him, and was handed over to the police. He is currently out on bail.
But Sithembiso Magubane, provincial Health Department spokesman, claimed that while there had been an attempted robbery of the woman’s cellphone the culprit had not been successful and had run away.
Booi said: “If this is not controlled we worry that it will eventually drive doctors and nurses out of the clinic… nobody is willing to put their lives in danger. Eventually they will go and it is local patients that will end up suffering.”
The Cape Argus first reported about the spate of crimes at that clinic two months ago after UCT physiotherapists were robbed outside its premises while waiting for their transport at the neighbouring Thembalethu School.
The women fled into the clinic, chased by armed men who snatched their cellphones and handbags. In the previous robbery at the school, young men jumped over the school’s fence and robbed trainee medical students of their possessions.
Booi blamed lack of police visibility in the area, saying robbers attacked patients as they were “soft targets”.
He also lamented the criminal justice system for failing the community, citing that despite efforts to bring these robbers to book, they were often released on bail within a few days.
“This is very discouraging for both the police and ourselves as the neighbourhood watch. People waste all their time and resources looking for these thugs only for them to be released from jail within days.”
But residents were also to blame as they were often reluctant to testify in these robbery cases for the fear of reprisal, he added.
Nowhi Mdayi, deputy chairwoman of the Gugulethu Health Forum, said the spate of robberies had almost driven health workers out of the area.
“Last month we had to sit down with some of the doctors working there and beg them to stay following these robberies and the killing of a Khayelitsha doctor (Dr Michael Aluko, who was shot dead in a suspected hijacking). These robberies are a serious threat to everyone. If these doctors leave eventually this could have a serious impact on health services in the area. We need to come up with ways on how security at the clinic can be beefed up,” she said.
Magubane denied that there were robberies inside the clinic, saying all robberies happened outside the premises, but in some cases residents ran into the clinic after being the victim of a crime.
He said the clinic management had reported the criminal acts to Gugulethu police on several occasions and the facility manager had attended safety and security meetings to discuss the problems at the clinic.
The department had also formed a partnership with the Gugulethu Health Forum, neighbourhood watches and police in the area.
The police had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.