Broken doors and windows, overgrown grass and the absence of running water and toilets are some of the problems identified by the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu). The health unit that manages the city’s 62 clinics has been embroiled in controversy, with unions calling for the unit head, Dr Nomakhosi Gxagxisa, to resign.
The crisis facing the unit has worsened in recent months following the resignation of Gxagxisa’s boss, deputy city manager Dr Musa Gumede, who has joined the health department.
Samwu sent a letter to Mayor Zandile Gumede on December 11, demanding that the city hand the clinics over to the provincial department because it was failing to properly manage them.
Other challenges facing clinics include staff shortages, too few vehicles and the absence of office space for environmental health staff.
“Previously the city used to win medals for provision of services, but today we are the worst, and struggling when it comes to the delivery of health services,” said the letter.
It stated that it was common knowledge and evident that the municipality was failing to manage the healthcare service and the province must take it back.
A union leader, who declined to be named, said they had taken some national executive committee members to some of the clinics to highlight the plight faced by the community.
“It is important that, while the whole national leadership is here, we take the opportunity to expose this rot,” he said.
Pictures of toilets and sinks from one of the clinics, seen by The Mercury, look unused and are covered in plastic.
A community member who sits on the Umlazi-G clinic committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were forced to treat a limited number of patients each day because of water problems, and that the community often accused them of not wanting to work as a result.
Samwu shop steward Joe Mabaso said: “Clinic G has been without water for years; they fetch water with buckets like you do in the rural areas.”
A report commissioned by the health unit in 2016 acknowledged the water challenges at the clinic, saying the supply had been a problem for some time and was affecting hygiene.
“The other clinic has no toilets; they are sealed off, which is a problem for the community. There is another one in town that was recently torched. It was so poorly maintained that it had grass and plants growing on the roof,” said Mabaso.
DA councillor Nicole Graham said they had received complaints about the service at some clinics.
“Some of the complainants say the clinics have not been upgraded. There are too many people going to a clinic and too few members of staff to attend to them. There is no medication and people are expected to go and sit at home while the medication is being restocked.”
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said they had received similar complaints.
“That unit does not have a deputy city manager and there is no clarity regarding the future of the head of department. It is unstable,” he said.
Councillor Zama Sokhabase, who chairs the community services committee, said she had not seen the letter from Samwu. She said there were clinics that were undergoing repairs. “Water problems are not limited to the clinics. If the township has no water, the clinic will have no water.”
She said any call for the clinics to be handed over to the health department would have to be a council decision.
“If grass needs to be cut, the clinic cannot do that, a unit of the municipality will do that. If windows need to be fixed, another unit will do that. There are many departments responsible for maintaining the clinics,” she said.
The city did not respond to a request for comment.