An investigation was launched at Northdale Hospital this weekend after allegations of racism and of discrimination against an operational manager were made. It is alleged that hospital CEO Buhle Maphanga and members of the executive committee forced a manager to empty her box of personal belongings, which included a statue of Hindu deity Lord Muruga, a framed photograph of Sai Baba, money and incense sticks, and confiscated the items. Several hospital staffers told The Witness that Maphanga allegedly “poked and prodded” at the statue with a pen and called it “voodoo”.Maphanga allegedly instructed the security guard to take photographs of the items before placing them in plastic bags. The incident occurred on Tuesday in the hospital’s G Ward and has since resulted in an outcry from hospital staff, the community and the Department of Health. The operational manager, whose name is known to The Witness, could not be contacted for comment. One of the senior staff members said the manager was left “traumatised” and “wailing” in her office. “She [the operational manager] called me and said they destroyed her Muruga. They lifted and bagged the murthis [statues] as if it was going to hurt them,” said one of the staffers who asked not to be named. She said seven executive members and a security guard visited the manager’s office following an anonymous tip-off. Maphanga allegedly told the operational manager that she would be investigated and charged, but did not specify what the charges were. The staff member said this was not the first time the manager was targeted as she had only returned to work last month following another incident, of which she did not disclose the details. The operational manager was moved to a different ward when she returned to work at the beginning of the year. “They want her [the operational manager] to be so mentally tortured that she will resign. “They continuously mock and humiliate her and give her the work that a junior would do,” said the staffer. Provoncial Department of Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said in a statement yesterday that the matter would be fully investigated. “If any individual is found guilty of contravening another’s constitutional rights, they will be subjected to the most appropriate sanction allowed by law,” Mkhwanazi said. He said the department fully upheld the rights of all citizens to follow and practise any religion of their choice, “so long as such rights do not interfere with operations in the workplace”.Chairperson for the health portfolio committee at KZN Legislature, Yusuf Bhamjee, also intervened in the matter. Bhamjee said he welcomed the department’s “very proactive” stand on the issue and hoped those who guided Maphanga would also “be brought to book”.Northdale Hospital staffer Yugan Naidoo said a meeting with union Hospersa and the community would be held on Thursday. Naidoo said the staff intend to call for the immediate dismissal of hospital CEO Maphanga.Naidoo said the matter was reported to the Midlands Hindu Society and the Human Rights Commission. President of the Midlands Hindu Society, Ranjiv Nirghin, said he hoped the matter would be fully investigated and steps taken by the government to build social cohesion. He said the MHS was especially concerned that the management involved allegedly disrespected the religious beliefs of a long-serving employee of the hospital. “There should be more sensitivity when dealing with the religious beliefs of all employees. “It is also alleged that no reasons were given to the employee for the removal of her religious items when the items were removed from her cupboard,” Nirghin said. Ian Webster, human resources consultant at Simply Communicate, said he believed there could be a case of unfair discrimination under the Employment Equity Act.“There may be good reason for not allowing the display of religious icons, but these were in a ‘private’ locker. In this country to confuse Hindu idols and icons with Voodoo, is not just ignorant, it is also the sort of intolerance we so desperately need to exclude.