/ 9 March 2023

Nehawu strike could have resulted in four deaths, says health minister

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Nehauw union members in Cape Town. Photo: GroungUp

A preliminary report indicates that the death of at least four people could be connected to the wage strike led by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), health minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday. 

During a media briefing held at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, Phaaahla said there may be deaths “attributed directly to the strike” but this would only be confirmed upon receipt of a final consolidated report. 

“I am not at liberty at this stage to discuss the matter but we will get legal advice sometime today or tomorrow,” he said.  

He said that the health department was working on a plan to return health services to normal in affected hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and Gauteng, which he described as being the worst “hit” by the strike. 

Phaahla said no one needing emergency care should be turned away from health facilities, as had happened during the strike. He emphasised that for striking nurses, the “no work, no pay” policy would apply. 

On Wednesday evening, Phaahla and Gauteng health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko convened a media briefing after assessing the effect of the strike at the hospital north of Johannesburg. 

It was here where he first addressed the alleged fatalities, although the exact number was not available. 

Phaahla described the disruptions caused by the protests as “harrowing”, saying there were “reports of serious violations of staff members” which would be handed over to the South African Police to investigate.  

“In this circumstance it’s not surprising there are reports of South Africans who have died, whose deaths have been attributed directly to the strike. We will be following up on these [allegations of deaths]. There are also reports of other serious violations and violence of staff members which I will not go into until we get further details,” he said on Wednesday. 

Earlier on the same day, the Johannesburg labour court granted the Gauteng health department an interdict which would bar Nehawu members from interfering with health services during the strike. 

“The South African Police Service has been ordered to take all steps necessary to give effect to the interim interdict including the removal and expulsion of any person obstructing the rendering of services from properties and premises of Gauteng department of health. The interdict will remain in effect pending the court return date of 20 April 2023,” the department said on Wednesday.   

This is the second interdict. The first was filed by the department of public service and administration. The union was interdicted from striking but on Monday Nehawu released a statement saying they would appeal the interdict. Members downed tools earlier that day following the rejection of their 10% wage increase request by the health department, which is offering 4.7%.   

“In the aftermath of the national union filing a leave to appeal on the court order interdicting our strike, the department of public service and administration urgently approached the court to file for an execution of the order. The matter was heard today at 09H00 and judgment was delivered at 14H00. The union subsequently launched an appeal at the labour appeal court,” Nehawu said.