WATCH | Two Free State healthcare workers injured after police fire rubber bullets to disperse protesters

Police 'opened fire' on health workers in the Free State.
Police 'opened fire' on health workers in the Free State.
Twitter/Leeto Nthoba

Two healthcare workers at Bongani Regional Hospital in Welkom, Free State, have been injured after police opened fire with rubber bullets on a group protesting about transportation issues at the facility.

According to Free State Department of Health spokesperson, Mondli Mvambi, the workers believed public transport was becoming too expensive.

Lockdown regulations limit the number of people who can be transported in a vehicle, and workers were being made to pay for the remaining seats in a taxi, Mvambi said. 

The regulations did not include government making transport available to workers, he added. 

"Workers pitched at work and felt there was a need to raise this problem very sharply, and they blocked entrance of the hospital. 

"In blocking the entrance, the violated the Covid-19 regulations because  you are not [allowed] to gather in close proximity beyond 100 people," Mvambi said. 

As a result, the department felt the gathering needed to be "defused". 

He added, however, the department are listening to the needs of the workers and have since decided to provide transport for health workers who need it. 

According to Nehawu's Free State chairperson, Moeketsi Napo, government departments rendering essential services had committed to providing essential workers with transport as healthcare workers are defined as essential workers.

However, he said, on Tuesday, the hospital's CEO put a stop to the transport which collected workers from their homes.

"Workers were not happy about this issue. When they were at the gates [of the hospital], they were shot [at] with rubber bullets and two workers were injured," Napo said.

Both injured workers were receiving medical care at Bongani Hospital and MediClinic.

He added that hospital management had called police, saying workers were not allowing patients access.

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Napo said Nehawu had intervened in the matter and had engaged the Free State Department of Health and the hospital.

"Apparently, the issue of transport has been sorted out. The workers will be collected by government vehicles from tonight."

Resource issue

Another challenge for the healthcare workers was a lack of resources to fight Covid-19, Napo said.

"In some institutions, including Bongani Hospital, workers were having a challenge with personal protective clothing, but items such as sanitisers, gloves and facemasks were provided, even if there were not enough.

"It's a challenge countrywide… but we have raised this same with the Minister of Health."

Napo added that the main issue healthcare workers at Bongani Hospital faced was transport to and from work, as public transport had become too costly during the lockdown period.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) spokesperson, Sontaga Seisa, confirmed that protesting workers had blocked anyone entering or exiting the hospital, including patients and doctors. 

"The POPs has to use means to get entrance unblocked," Seisa said.

News24 contacted the police for comment. It will be added once received.

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