Johannesburg – Francine Ngalula Kalala, the woman who gave birth at Park Station in the Joburg CBD, was allegedly turned away from three hospitals because of her asylum status.
Last year, she and her husband Serge fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a central African country embroiled in civil strife that has claimed nearly 6 million lives, to seek asylum in South Africa.
They started a new life in Cape Town. Soon thereafter, Francine fell pregnant, and received prenatal treatment at a hospital there. But a month ago, they moved to Pretoria.
At 2am on Thursday, Francine went into labour, and after a 20-minute drive, they arrived at Tshwane District Hospital, ready to receive treatment.
But the authorities at the hospital told her they had no bed for her and that she was “not allowed to be admitted”. She waited in the hospital’s entrance for hours, watching as other patients, who had arrived after her, were given treatment.
The constitution entitles asylum seekers to the same basic health services as South African citizens, which includes maternity care.
Once they realised they would not receive treatment, Francine and Serge drove to the neighbouring Steve Biko Hospital, where they were also denied medical care.
Confused and desperate, Francine took the Gautrain to Joburg, where Serge’s brother’s wife, also a Congolese asylum seeker, had given birth.
Francine spent the 45-minute train ride to Joburg vomiting as the other passengers tried their best to assist her. But when the train pulled into Park Station at 7am, after Francine had been in labour for more than five hours, her infant daughter, Emmanuella, could not wait any longer.
The train doors opened and passengers immediately cried for help. Security guards quickly came, bringing boxes to create a semblance of privacy for Francine to give birth.
They immediately called an ambulance, but Francine delivered her baby on the station floor.
Twenty minutes later, an ambulance arrived and took Serge, Francine and Emmanuella to Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital – where they were again turned away.
“They said it was the wrong place to bring us, but it was a hospital How is that the wrong place?” Francine asked.
Serge begged the hospital staff to at least wash Emmanuella or have a doctor look at her, as she was beginning to turn blue. But they were sent to Hillbrow Hospital, where, after eight hours, they finally received treatment.
“This is worse than anything that happened to me in the DRC,” Francine said. “I don’t want to stay in this country. I don’t feel welcome here.”
Serge hopes their story can illuminate the discriminatory treatment of foreigners in South Africa, and hopes the next time a foreign woman needs medical help, she is not turned away.
“If anything had gone wrong and my baby had died or if my wife had died I could have lost my family,” he said. “Can you even begin to imagine that?”
Gautrain confirmed that some of its staff members assisted the woman to deliver the baby and they were both taken to hospital.
“ER24 were immediately contacted and their ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, but by then, the station staff had already helped to deliver the baby girl, who obviously was intent on not waiting for the paramedics,” said spokesperson Kesagee Nayager.
“Our staff at Park Station did a splendid job assisting with the delivery,” he added.
The Star sent email questions to the Tshwane, Steve Biko and Charlotte Maxeke hospitals on Friday, and called their spokespersons yesterday, but they had not responded at the time of publication.
Spokesperson for the Gauteng Health Department Prince Hamnca said they had checked with Tshwane and Steve Biko hospitals but both said they had no records of a woman named Francine.