Johannesburg – The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (Haitu) is relieved that the North Gauteng High Court has ordered the South African government to stop load shedding in critical sectors of the economy.
This comes after Haitu met with attorneys Eric Mabuza and Tembeka Ngcukaitobi earlier this year to give detailed evidence about how load shedding was resulting in the deaths of patients.
Rich Sicina, Haitu President, said they were part of 18 other applicants who went to court, including the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), to make an urgent application to the High Court.
"As a union, we were fed up with the fact that the government was refusing to intervene to alleviate this crisis in public hospitals and clinics."
"We welcome the decision of the High Court to hand down this landmark judgment compelling the state to exempt all healthcare facilities, including clinics and hospitals."
"When load shedding happens, patients who cannot breathe on their own must be resuscitated manually because the ventilators do not work, and when you add the fact that the majority of hospitals are grossly understaffed, it means that nurses must play God and choose whose life should be saved, which may result in other patients dying."
Sicina stated that load shedding in the neo-natal units, where premature and sick babies are taken care of, is also unable to properly care for infants, which means that some may die.
In an affidavit submitted by Sicina on behalf of the union to the court, the party stated that "it’s a matter of life and death because the mortality rates go up with every power cut, especially if a person is on resuscitation or oxygen, and if things don’t go as planned, someone dies every time there is a power cut."
This submission was backed up by Professor Rudo Mathiva of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, who confirmed that: "There have been several instances where patients succumb and the cause of death is described in many different ways in circumstances where the cause of death may have actually been due to load shedding."
Sicina added that this is why it was so important for Haitu to make submissions in this court case and that the majority of public hospitals are not exempt from load shedding, and not all of them have generators.
"Even for those that are lucky enough to have them, those generators do not work all the time, and they do not provide electricity to the entire hospital."
"At the same time, hospitals have to choose between having money for food for patients and spending that money on diesel because of budgetary constraints caused by austerity measures."
"Load shedding is utterly devastating in hospitals, and the government has not taken this issue seriously at all, which is why Haitu participated in the court case."
"Haitu will continue to lead the fight in defence of workers in the healthcare sector. We are the only healthcare workers union that has been consistent in calling for an end to the deadly rolling blackouts, and now that we have been granted this order, we feel that finally, this matter is getting the urgent attention it deserves," said Sicina.