Four Messina Hospital staff members, who are also shop stewards for the union Nehawu, have been dismissed for inciting strike action against a doctor.
The strike in question took place at Messina Hospital in Musina, Limpopo in May, when hundreds of hospital employees protested in order to highlight a slew of complaints against Dr Allick Msebe Dube, who then acted as the hospital’s clinical manager. Staff and patients complained that Dube harassed foreign doctors, calling them "incompetent," refused care to foreign patients, and gave inadequate care to patients.
The strike resulted in Dube being placed on paid leave for several weeks before being re-instated, and promoted, to senior clinical chief executive officer, the hospital's highest position. While National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu provincial chairperson Mike Shingange says that the Limpopo MEC for health and social development, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, has promised an investigation into Dube, the doctor has not had charges laid against him, nor had to attend a disciplinary hearing.
Shingange claims that the four dismissed workers were unable to attend their own disciplinary hearing, as the staff were given the wrong date, but that Letsatsi-Dube promised that make-up hearings would be held. "[The dismissals] are very disappointing as we are busy engaging with the MEC on the problems at the hospital," Shingange said, noting that Nehawu has had several meetings with Letsatsi-Duba. "Our members were never given a chance to appear before a disciplinary hearing, and the decision to dismiss them was taken in their absence. [That’s] how desperate they are to get rid of them."
In addition to the four dismissed, three other hospital staff have also been charged with inciting strike action. One, who asked not to be named, confirmed that she has been found guilty of the charges, but has not yet received punishment. "I don't have a problem being found guilty," she told the Mail & Guardian. "My main problem is still working with Dube. He’s going around threatening people … [He’s] saying he's got people on his list that he wants to fire, he’s saying [he] wants to know all the nurses that embarked on illegal strike, take their names to the nursing council." She claims that she did not even attend the strike, let alone organise it. The other two accused have not yet had their disciplinary hearings.
Dube’s problems have not been confined to Messina Hospital. While working as a doctor in the US, Dube was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a Georgia court in 2004 after two of his patients died after overdosing on painkillers, according to a US investigator who worked on the case. Dube also had his license suspended for six months by the Georgia Composite Medical Board in 1991. His license was again suspended for six months by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, with Dube subsequently being placed on probation, according to 2008 records.
Despite this, in 2009 Dube took a position at Ethembeni Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal with the help of African Health Placements, an NGO that works to staff under-served health centres. AHP also assisted with Dube’s placement at Messina. The Health Professions Council for South Africa (HPCSA), responsible for registering all doctors in the country, says that Dube was registered in 2009 after he was vetted by the national department of health’s Foreign Workforce Management Programme.
While a task team was appointed by the provincial health department to look into issues at Messina Hospital, Shingange says that the team’s report was "inadequate" as it did not consider allegations against Dube, did not suggest action against him, and did not include an independent investigation into the criminal charges against him. Shingange says that Letsatsi-Dube agreed that further investigation was needed, and promised that Dube be removed from his position.
The MEC visited Musina in August to learn more about the situation at the hospital, and, according to hospital staff and community members, promised to return with a plan of action for Dube and the hospital going forward. She has not since done so. "We are now disappointed because she has disappeared from us, and she has disappeared from the hospital," said Shingange. "She asked for a postponement because she said she needed time to deal with the issues. But she has not been coming back to us."
Shingange says that the Hawks, a special investigating team of the South African Police Services, have undertaken an investigation in Limpopo, but he does not know the scope of the task. "We know the Hawks are investigating certain things about corruption, but we don't know if its about Dr Dube or someone else," he said. "You know that in the province there have been a lot of things [wrong] in the department of health, so I'm sure it is broad. We think that will include Messina Hospital, but we have not been contacted by the Hawks."
Adele van der Linde, spokesperson for the Limpopo department of health and social development, said that she could not confirm whether an investigation by the Hawks was taking place. The Hawks could not be contacted at time of press for comment.
Van der Linde also couldn’t confirm the dismissals of the four Messina staff, nor whether Dube had been given a five-year contract for his current position, as hospital staff have reported to the M&G. "The department will follow the correct disciplinary procedures where necessary," said van der Linde.
An investigation is under way by the HPCSA after two complaints were filed against Dube, including one by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, who provides support to sexual assault survivors in Musina. According to Bertha Peters-Scheepers, the council’s spokesperson, Dube has had a chance to respond to the allegations against him, and the matter will be heard by the Preliminary Conduct Committee at its next meeting.
The four workers have since appealed the dismissal. They thus remain at work and await the appeal hearing.