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Durban – A Northdale Hospital operations manager, who was ordered to remove her Hindu deities from her work locker, is undergoing psychiatric treatment to help her come to terms with the ordeal.

Last week, the manager was forced to remove her religious items – which included an incense stick, a statue of Hindu deity Lord Muruga, and a framed photograph of Sai Baba – from her locker at the Pietermaritzburg hospital and show them to the hospital chief executive officer (CEO), Buhle Maphanga, as well as seven members of the hospital’s executive committee.

She was accused of using the deities to practise witchcraft. The Department of Health is investigating.

Dev Naidoo, a community activist, speaking to the Daily News on behalf of the manager, lambasted the department for the manner in which it was dealing with the matter.

“The chief executive officer interrogated her and said she had to bring people with her to talk to the manager because she was scared that she was using witchcraft. She called a guard and asked him to take photographs of the religious pieces to use as evidence against the manager,” said Naidoo.

He said the manager asked if she could put the items in her car, but some of those involved in the incident allegedly laughed at her. Naidoo said one of the women poked and prodded the items.

“The manager was humiliated in front of staff. She is a deeply spiritual person and a Hare Krishna devotee. I spoke to other staff members who all said the manager was a very upright person. She was meticulous in her work. She is very traumatised and has been referred to a psychiatrist,” Naidoo said.

Noel Desfontaines, general secretary for the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa), said the actions undertaken by the chief executive could leave her without a job if those actions constituted a serious offence.

Desfontaines said Hospersa, whose officials were expected to meet hospital staff later this week, would call for the chief executive’s dismissal. “She will have to be given the benefit of a formal charge and the opportunity to defend herself at a formal disciplinary hearing.

“Only if she is found guilty, and the presiding officer – taking into account mitigating and aggravating circumstances – decides that dismissal is an appropriate sanction, can she be dismissed,” said Desfontaines.

“On the facts available, the manager can lodge a grievance for the manner in which she has been treated and also consider lodging a dispute with the CCMA for discrimination. If true, the actions of the chief executive officer appear to be extremely high-handed, ignorant and intolerable of an employee’s religious belief. Her actions could certainly constitute a sufficiently serious offence that could justify dismissal,” Desfontaines said.

Desfontaines said that Hospersa would support the member and demand that the department immediately implement the disciplinary process.

“This process must be transparent and the CEO should be required to give an explanation. We will obviously get more information from our KZN provincial leadership on this matter as there may be a history here with this member having arbitrary actions taken against her."

“It sounds like she has been specifically targeted as opposed to being the subject of a random search. The member should enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to storing personal goods in her private locker,” he said.

President of the Hindu Maha Sabha in South Africa, Ashwin Trikamjee, said: “It is sad that this kind of behaviour and insensitive actions take place on the part of government officials.

“While one welcomes the stand taken by the Health Department in condemning the incident, we call for not just a condemnation but for thorough investigation and for disciplinary action to be taken against the people involved,” he said.

Sam Mkhwanazi, department spokesperson, said the matter would be investigated and if any individual was found guilty of contravening another’s constitutional rights, they would be subjected to the most appropriate action allowed by the law.

Daily News