The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) says it is prepared to die or go to jail while trying to force Gauteng ANC chairperson and premier David Makhura to fix the ailing health system in the province. On Tuesday, hundreds of the organisation’s members braved the cold Johannesburg weather and marched to Makhura’s office in Newtown for the second time in three days. The TAC has vowed to march in front of the office every day until Makhura and Gauteng MEC for health Nomathemba Mokgethi listen to their grievances.
Last week, TAC left a memorandum of demands in Makhura’s office. Among its demands was that the premier reopens the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital following its closure after a fire in April.
In June, Makhura admitted that the closure of Charlotte Maxeke was increasingly burdening other hospitals in the province, especially in the wake of Covid-19. He also revealed that only certain parts of the hospital would reopen after renovations.
Makhura’s economic adviser, Dumisani Dakile, told the TAC that he would pass on the memorandum, and that he would ensure that both Makhura and the MEC would be available for yesterday’s meeting.
This did not happen, as the office was closed down by members of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department. Members of the South African Police Service were also present to maintain order during the march.
TAC secretary general Anele Yawa said, “If it means we must sleep outside here for the whole week for Makhura to come and hear us then so be it. We are even ready to die or get arrested for our mandate. Sleeping in the cold before accessing healthcare is nothing for the old people out here, they go through it on a daily basis in these clinics. We are used to this disrespect by the government.”
Yawa vowed that they were not going anywhere until they were heard as the issues of poor healthcare in Gauteng were not new.
“What this shows us is that politicians only care about the people only when they want power, after that they forget. What are we really voting for if this continues?” said Yawa.
On 11 August, Wednesday morning, Yawa told the Mail & Guardian that they were resolved to continue sleeping at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown until Makhura agreed to meet with them. He said they would not move and had bought blankets for their members to sleep there the whole week.
TAC used a coffin in its demonstration on Tuesday, 10 August, saying the casket symbolised those who died as a result of the poor healthcare system in Gauteng.
The organisation’s chairperson, Sibongile Tshabalala, said the TAC felt disrespected by Makhura’s office, especially after Friday’s memorandum handover.
“Today we are sent different faces from the ones we met. It’s pure disrespect for healthcare users and every South African out there. When Makhura gets sick he will be transported to Singapore or elsewhere outside the country for the best medical attention. Unfortunately we can’t do that. He must come and face this crisis,” Tshabalala said.
Gauteng has lost more than 100 medical professionals this year alone, according to TAC. Some have resigned due to increasing workload, fewer staff and depleting resources.
Vuyo Mhaga, who is the media liaison officer in Makhura’s office, said “both the premier and the health MEC are currently in the Vaal, where they are engaging farmworkers and encouraging them to take the vaccination for Covid-19. I have heard about the march, but the premier and the MEC are yet to get the memorandum and engage with it. We can only fully respond after that.”