Strikers dance as hospital patients are left high and dry

Crowds of healthcare workers sang and danced as they protested outside Natalspruit Hospital in Thokoza on Wednesday, watched by the police. The strikers blocked the gates and no vehicles were allowed in.

A striking nurse compared their protest action with that of Eskom workers in June, who won a 9% pay increase and R1 500 housing allowance after they threatened to strike during the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“The government gave in to their demands,” the nurse, who did not want to be named, told the Mail & Guardian. “What about us? They treat us like doormats. Patients are not getting food but it’s the government’s fault. It must look after its people. Patients are suffering because of it.”

Natalspruit’s kitchen workers also downed tools. A nurse told the M&G that she gave one of “her” patients R10 to buy something to eat.

Shortly after noon the M&G saw a woman wandering on to the hospital grounds. She had a lesion under her foot associated with diabetes and was hoping to have it dressed at the hospital, nurses said. After a short while, she left to go home. At Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, the staff marched around the otherwise calm hospital grounds after a meeting of the National Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu). The main entrance gates were closed and cars pulling up outside were ­re-routed.

The M&G came across a psychiatric ward in which patients in powder-blue robes were dancing and singing in the hallways because they had not had food that day. Nurses in the ward said the problem was temporarily “being sorted out” and that, while they would finish work on Wednesday, they would “obviously” be striking on Thursday.

Teachers from the nursing college based at the hospital also attended the Nehawu meeting. “[Public Services and Administration Minister Richard] Baloyi won’t give us what we want,” said one. “We want to show him we will make the country ungovernable. We will continue [striking] until December if we have to. [Baloyi] must open his fucking ears.”

Doctors said work went on as normal on Wednesday and they had no plans to join the strike. “We’re in the firing line,” one told the M&G. “Doctors have to be at work.”

At Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, workers blockaded the entrance to casualty and the maternity ward.

Ishmael Mukhari, the Nehawu chairperson at the hospital, said: “Losing a job is a weapon employers are using to intimidate us. We say: enough is enough.”

Inside the hospital, however, everything was calm.

Staff who were at work said they would like more money, but were not drawn to strike. Nurses who opted to work on Thursday were told by management not to wear their uniforms to avoid intimidation from protesters.

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen.
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