Durban — KwaZulu-Natal health services cannot be held hostage by criminals.
That was according to DA KZN Health spokesperson Edwin Baptie who called on Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane to take urgent steps to protect health-care workers.
Baptie’s call comes after what he called a string of recent incidents, including the burning of a Department of Health vehicle, vandalising two more, threats to necklace a health official, extortion of money, abduction of health officials and the theft of power cables and equipment.
“The growing number of criminal incidents perpetuated against health officials and facilities must be taken as a serious warning by this ANC-run provincial government. In this regard, the MEC needs to be proactive rather than reactive,” Baptie said.
He said the Health Department provides an essential service to vulnerable citizens. Rising levels of violent protest and lawlessness and the government’s apparent inability to curb this must be given urgent attention.
“Until our province and our country become an environment that is not compromised by anarchy and criminal activity, there can be no reaching our goals in terms of providing universal health care,” Baptie said.
“The people of KZN have a role to play in protecting our health officials and institutions from criminal elements. We encourage them to work with SAPS and law enforcement agencies to protect our assets by identifying those involved. We also call on SAPS to double their efforts against those who perpetuate these heinous acts.”
Baptie added that the DA would continue to pressure MEC Simelane on the issue.
“Our province cannot be held hostage by criminals.”
On Thursday, Simelane condemned attacks and death threats against mobile health workers, including abductions and the torching of vehicles in the uMzinyathi District, as well as stone-throwing, fire and staff intimidation at the Cato Manor Community Health Centre.
Simelane described the attacks as “completely uncalled-for and reprehensible”.
On Thursday, a health inspector who was travelling to Monyane Clinic in Nkandla was abducted and held hostage by angry protesters about 500m from the clinic. He and three women colleagues were blocked and forcibly removed from the vehicle, which was then extensively damaged. The man was subsequently freed about three hours later.
During a separate attack on Wednesday, at uMzinyathi District, a nurse had to pay her last R300 to a group of assailants in order to save the life of a colleague who had a tyre put around his neck by the men, who were threatening to douse it with petrol and set him alight.
It is alleged that the mobile health teams were en-route to various mobile health clinic points in uMzinyathi District when they were forced off the road by unknown gun-wielding men in a Toyota Quantum.
The mobile health teams, which included women, were assaulted, robbed of their valuables, sworn at, and asked by the men: “How are you working while we’re unemployed?”
The men set alight one of the vehicles, and completely smashed the windows of two others. The highly-traumatised staff members have had to receive counselling.
Also on Wednesday, in an unrelated incident, police had to use tear gas to disperse a crowd that had thrown stones and threatened staff at the Cato Manor Community Health Centre in Durban, during a service delivery protest. The crowd had burnt tyres and trash at the entrance of the health-care facility. Some staff members as well as health-care users had to receive medical treatment for tear gas inhalation while others were forced to leave to stop working during the fracas, which caused a lot of panic.
“We are deeply disturbed, shocked, and concerned by these incidents. We appeal to communities not to attack our health-care workers or destroy public property because it deprives communities of much-needed health-care services and resources that are meant to assist them,” Simelane said.
“These incidents are a serious setback to our gallant efforts to make health-care accessible to everyone, including those in the rural areas. No one will ever know the full effects of these attacks on the psyche of the staff who were affected. And destroying vehicles and property takes a serious toll on us due to the fact that our resources are scarce.
“Replacing these vehicles and repairing damaged buildings could mean we’re unable to pay staff, buy medication, health technology equipment, or do routine maintenance work. So, we strongly condemn these actions and wish to call upon all right-thinking South Africans not to harbour these criminals within their ranks, but rather isolate and report them to law-enforcement authorities. No matter how genuine you believe your cause to be, such reprehensible conduct can never be justified,” Simelane said.