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Pregnant women suffer as strikers stay away

Published Aug 24, 2010


At least 20 heavily pregnant women, some already in the middle of labour, were turned away from the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg on Monday.

The women, together with mothers with sick infants, arrived at the hospital on Monday to find the gates locked and staff, including essential nursing staff, protesting nearby. They simply ignored a court interdict granted to the government on Saturday instructing essential staff to return to work.

From early on Monday, security guards at the entrance to Rahima Moosa turned away the women, saying there was no one on the premises to help them - protesters blocked other entrances to the hospital.

Nolitha Ngwenya, who sat on the cold concrete pavement, writhing in apparent labour pains, was among the women seeking medical help.

She arrived at the hospital just after 9am with a bag of baby clothes, hoping to give birth that day. But after being left unattended for about three hours, she and a friend took a taxi to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, where she was admitted.

At the time of going to press, Ngwenya, 21, had not yet given birth.

For Jacqueline Tsholo, whose water broke at 6am and who arrived at the mother and child hospital an hour later, it was a long wait. While many of the women left the hospital, saying they were scared of being attacked by the protesters, Tsholo stayed put.

About 10 hours later, she was eventually admitted. She also had not given birth at the time of going to press.

Susan Sibanda, 27, went home after being refused entry. She was told that her baby was big and it was important that she have a Caesarean section.

Rahima Moosa CEO Susan Jordaan said 80 percent of the nurses had turned up for work in the morning, but their numbers had dwindled throughout the day. They had left in the face of intimidation.

Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, who visited the hospital yesterday, said it was not the hospital's policy to turn away women who were in need of help. But, she said, because of the strike the hospital could deal only with emergency cases.

Mokonyane said many workers wanted to work, but they were intimidated not to. Some, she said, were told they would be attacked at home.

The situation at other hospitals in and around Joburg appears to have improved.

Lungi Mvumvu, the spokesperson at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, said the nursing staff had almost all returned to work on Monday and that volunteers had helped to cover for the lack of cleaners.

Johanna More, the CEO of Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, said nursing staff had mostly returned and that staff sign-ins had improved significantly.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi visited Bara on Monday.

"We are happy with the way things are being secured," Sisulu said after walking through the hospital. "We remain ready to assist in all sectors of the public service to ensure that no life is lost and all people are assisted."

But, for one mother, it was already too late.

S'bonelo Ngongoma died at Bara at the weekend and his family has blamed it on the strike. Ngongoma, 31, died on Sunday night.

He was admitted on August 9 after suffering a stroke.

According to his mother Judith, his health was improving, until the strike started and staff removed his drips.

"It was promising. I had hoped he was going to survive, but then the strike came. I wish I had taken him home earlier. There was nobody attending to him.

"He could not speak. I realised he was getting worse. We kept coming to bath him and change him."

On Sunday, his health deteriorated, she said.

"He could not eat. That made me worried and I decided to get him transferred to Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg," she said.

But when Ngongoma and her sister Lindiwe arrived at the hospital on Monday, an official notified them about his death.

Judith said her son's death could have been avoided.

"I wish the government had solved this problem earlier," said a visibly angry Judith.

However, Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Mandla Sidu said there was no evidence that S'bonelo had died because he had not been attended to or that the drips had been removed.

As the strike moved into its seventh day on Monday, police arrested 61 workers.

Thirty-eight of the detained workers were arrested in Kimberley for "trashing the CBD and contravening the Gatherings Act", said Captain Cherelle Ehlers.

In Gauteng, police locked up 29 protesting workers at the Edenvale Hospital, while six others were arrested at the Helen Joseph Hospital for blocking hospital entrances.

The arrested workers were arrested for "barricading public roads and for public violence".

The police reiterated that they would not "tolerate this nonsense".

The arrested strikers were expected to appear in special courts on Tuesday.

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