In March, before South Africa went into full lockdown, the Mail & Guardian’s Sarah Smit spoke to Sisanda Kulima, a community health worker. Like her peers, she was already on the front line of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gauteng premier David Makhura would go on to call these workers the state’s “troops on the ground”. These are the workers who we tend to call “heroes” and who we thank for tackling a virus that has killed 16 000 people in our country. President Cyril Ramaphosa similarly lauded their work.
At that time these workers did not have permanent jobs, despite a five-year battle to change the situation. In July they were taken on as permanent workers. It seemed the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to look after vital workers, with their importance for our health and safety made all the clearer by the rising death toll.
This week, Smit went back to Kulima, who told her she has not been paid since June. She is one of 557 community health workers who have gone months without pay. Some face evictions, others have had to borrow money from loan sharks to keep on going. This doesn’t stop them going to work every day, providing a vital service in a crumbling health system.
Talking to Smit, another health worker wondered aloud how health officials sleep at night, knowing they aren’t paying people’s salaries.
From our other reporting this week, and in the past, it seems clear there is a layer of government and party officials who simply don’t care about others.
Parts of the ANC have been trying to force some sort of consequence management in the governing party, with a resolution taken that the corrupt must step down.
This was meant to be a watershed; a moment when the ruling party changed how it governs with impunity.
Instead, convicted Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa is still drawing a salary, despite being in jail for assault. In other provinces, corruption accused, such as Zandile Gumede, are apparently being pushed into positions of power to support ANC secretary general Ace Magashule’s attempts to fight for control of the ruling party.
Gumede is facing criminal charges for alleged corruption. Magashule ignored lockdown regulations to fly to Zimbabwe on a government jet. He also presided over the near-total destruction of the Free State.
None of these people seems troubled by the fact that their actions are destroying the lives of others. In a society where those who would seek to lead us are able to feel this unaccountable, it is not surprising that the people who are working to keep us healthy and safe can go unpaid.
This cannot continue.