General workers at Charlotte Maxeke hospital in Johannesburg demonstrated for higher wages and performance bonuses on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, protesters blocked vehicle entrances to hospitals with burning debris, large stones and empty hospital beds. By the early afternoon, protesters had gathered on the fifth floor of the hospital to sing and chant for performance bonus wages from the government.
Protesters — including hospital cleaners, staff nurses and administration workers — marched through hallways, scattering rubbish and singing. An administration worker who gave his name as Sipho Mqungebe, hopes the protest will spark government action.
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“We’ve been fighting for this money for too long. We are desperate. We want the government to pay us,” he said.
Many hospital workers who participated in the protest say they do not earn a liveable wage. Nomalizo, a staff nurse at the hospital, says her R10 000 monthly salary is inexplicably low for the work she does.
“We are working weekends, we are working Sunday, we are working public holidays, but nobody appreciates what we are doing,” she says, “If we are earning more money we can take our kids to school and we can buy houses.”
National Health Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) provincial general secretary Gracia Rikhotso hopes there will be a multilateral agreement between workers and the government on Friday. Rikhotso explained that protests will end after an agreement is met.
As the protesters continued to march, others continued about their business. Johann Brits, a 61-year-old patient who is staying at the hospital, left his ward to investigate after hearing about the protests. He was shocked to see the amounts of litter in the hospital. “I was curious to know what was going on. It’s terrible. It looks terrible. You can’t believe it in a hospital that it looks like this so we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Staff members who are not participating in the protests are concerned about the unsanitary conditions that were left by the protesters.
“If people want to fight for their rights or money they must make a peaceful protest rather than littering the hospital because it’s really not good for infection control,” said Sibusiso Mkhize, a radiographer there.
“People are going to be very sick from this. People who even come with a minor wound can get sepsis from this kind of thing.”
By about 3.30pm, protesters had left the hospital, shouting they would return on Friday.