Pietermaritzburg - The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has warned of an all-out strike if the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government does not “step up in fixing the mess” at the provincial health department. 

The warning was issued by Nehawu provincial secretary Phakama Ndunakazi on Thursday at the conclusion of a march in Pietermaritzburg. “This march is a warning shot to both the department and government to sort out the problems because we are of the view that the department is collapsing. If nothing is done we will embark on a full-blown strike,” said Ndunakazi. 

The areas of concern for the union include:  

- inadequate pay to members of Emergency Medical Rescue Service

- the continued use of labour brokers instead of hiring staff on a full-time basis

- hospitals that did not have adequate equipment to treat patients

The provincial secretary expressed disappointment with KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, saying some of the problems can be traced into his office. “The problem about equipment for cancer treatment has been with us since 2010, so in as much as some problems may be administrative, there are also problems which demonstrate lack of political will,” said Phakama. 

The department has come under severe criticism in recent weeks with complaints about a shortage of medicine and cancer treatment equipment in some centres leading to calls for both the MEC and head of department Dr Sifiso Mtshali to be axed.

In response to this, KZN Premier Willies Mchunu announced the appointment of Professor Ronald Greene Thompson to assist in improving management in the department. In a further development a few days ago, department head Mtshali was suspended.  

Nehawu also expressed concern over maladministration, citing the recent report from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on irregular expenditure as a wake-up call to government. “You cannot have nearly one billion rands of irregular expenditure and do nothing about it because that is the money that should be channelled to servicing people.”   

The march was joined by national union figures including President Mzwandile Makwayiba, Secretary Zola Saphetha, and the provincial South African Communist Party's James Nxumalo.

African News Agency