Mobs turn on the sick

2010-08-20 00:00

THE second day of the full-blown national public service strike was characterised by intimidation, violence and thuggery, with those willing to go to work forced out of hospitals by protesters.

Groups of men were going around attacking everyone who was inside the hospitals.

Early yesterday morning, affiliates of the Congress of SA Trade Unions barricaded hospital and clinic gates to bring services to a standstill.

Northdale, Edendale and Grey’s hospitals were functioning with few doctors. Edendale sent a request to the head office for the deployment of army health personnel, who have already started work at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban.

Edendale was deserted by its more than 2 000 employees, mostly nurses.

Employees at Town Hill and Fort Napier psychiatric hospitals were also affected.

Kitchen staff at Fort Napier, who are not government workers, were beaten with sjamboks by a group of men wearing Nehawu T-shirts.

A victim of the attack, Nonhlanhla Mvelase, said the sjambok-wielding men arrived in two bakkies with no number plates.

“They never gave us a chance to explain, but just started beating us up. They also carried guns and they used brutal force … After the attack the men left, saying that they’ll come back and deal with us if we are still there,” said Mvelase.

She said no one was willing to stay after the attack.

The catering manager, her assistant and a supervisor were left to cook for the patients.

A senior employee at the hospital said some of their patients are prisoners. She said that in their mental state, the patients could revolt if they were not fed on time or given their medication.

Sjambokking incidents were also reported at Edendale, although no charges were laid.

Police fired a stun grenade and pepper spray during two incidents at Grey’s.

The protesters became violent while attempting to evict the staff.

Late yesterday, more violent actions at the hospital were reported by a community member, who said protesters entered the paediatric ward and assaulted the few nurses and parents who were there with their children.

The allegations could not be confirmed at the time of going to print.

The situation was at crisis point at Northdale, where patients were left to fend for themselves.

“The wards were neglected and there is no staff on duty.

“There was no food so relatives have been asked to bring food in for the patients,” said a volunteer who declined to be named.

She said that she and another volunteer were giving bed-baths and what little care they could in the ward where her relative is.

They also laid out a body and took it to the morgue after someone died on the ward.

She added, “There were also psychotic patients in the ward who were not getting their medication. We had an episode where one of the patients jumped on to a bed of another patient, saying that the patient in the bed was her husband.”

Psychotic patients are admitted for 72-hour observation at Northdale before being taken to Town Hill.

Police spokesperson Joey Jeevan confirmed some of the alleged incidents and advised victims to lay charges so they can be investigated.

Patients who came for medication, including anti-retroviral drugs, were locked outside the East/Boom Community Healthcare Centre yesterday morning.

At Murchison on the south coast, 51 strikers were arrested after they burst into the hospital, intimidated staff and damaged property. They appeared in court yesterday and were released on warning.

Sociologist and violence monitor Mary de Haas said Cosatu, the organiser of the strike, must take full responsibility for the pain and psychological trauma caused to patients and their families.

“… As much as their cause for the strike is legitimate, they are using the wrong means to drive the point home,” said De Haas.

Nehawu spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said his union condemns any form of violent acts against those who elect to “defy” the unions’ strike call.

“As much as we condemn this violent behaviour, we still appeal to workers to withdraw their labour because the benefits are for all,” said Nkwanyana.

Health spokesperson Chris Maxon confirmed the death of a patient at Edendale.

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