Why was no one listening?

2009-07-03 00:00

I HAVE been told that some modern-day agricultural extension officers visit projects and farms in high heels and chic clothes with cellphones glued to their ears. They are out of touch with the reality of the soil, the crops and the needs of those who are desperate to make a living from this rich land


I am reminded of this when I think of the striking doctors and the lamentable circumstances that have led to this unprofessional action. They took it, I believe, notwithstanding their own consciences and the possible consequences of illegal action, because it has come to pass that threats, demonstrations, blockades and even violence are the only effective ways to achieve one’s goals. Reason is a thing of the past. Whether it is a union or the taxi association, militancy seems to be the only way to open the ears of those who should be listening, but are not.

It is inconceivable to me that Health Department officials and hospital administrators should have failed for so long to see the writing on the wall. Yet, when the doctors started their action there was an air of surprise, as if this was unexpected and entirel­y unethical.

Promises regarding salaries had not been kept and conditions in public hospitals have gone from bad to worse, but the doctors are expected to carry on despite their protestations and their justifiable anger and frustration. Authorities are blind and deaf to reason, apparently, or without any real understanding of what is, and has been for a long time, happening on the ground.

I don’t believe that this is only about salaries. I think that for many of the people who have defied the law, it is also about bringing to the notice of the public just how disgraceful the public health system has become.

Part of that disgrace are the unacceptably low salaries paid to highly qualified people who have every right to expect that they should be treated on a par with many other “professionals” in the public sector. The deplorable conditions to be found in hospitals constitute another part of the disgrace; conditions to which “authorities” appear to be oblivious. And deaf. I cannot accept that a person appointed to manage a hospital has been so incompetent, or so indifferent, that the deficiencies have not been reported “up the line”.

It is possible, of course, that the reporting has been regular and even forceful, but the longer the line, the more the urgen­cy of the report becomes eroded on its journey to the acm­e of indifference. Here we find capable, often well-qualified people, supposedly with common sense, who have eyes and ears, but neither see nor hear.

Here we have a taxi association — alliance is it? — that is miffed because it has not been afforded official recognition and is claiming “intellectual property rights” to all the routes covered by the Bus Rapid Transport

System. The government has no alternative, it seems, but to take this seriously because of the threats that have been issued and the past record of taxi operators, who do not shun violence to get their way.

There have been reported incide­nts of passengers being dragged from cars because they are participating in lift clubs, thereby depriving someone of profit. So much for the Bill of Rights. So much for reason — this cause has been taken more seriously than the doctors’.

Doctors, unlike taxi operators who, it seems, couldn’t care less, tried to get public sympathy on their side. They did this by campaigning for a cause, as much as a salary increase. The government also courted public sympathy by announcing a new salary structure which, when tested, was shown to be a sham.

This was a cheap trick, but quite often used; one that shows a lack of good faith negotiation and an inhere­nt distrust, which gets us nowhere.

Why not spend the energy finding out exactly how many doctors are employed, for goodness’ sake? And stop telling; start listening — to reason.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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