OPINION | Mapi Mhlangu: Public hospitals turned into crime scenes amid Nehawu strike | News24

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Nehawu members protesting in Gauteng.


Nehawu members protesting in Gauteng.

After struggling to access healthcare for her elderly aunt at a public
hospital during the Nehawu strike, 
Mapi Mhlangu writes public
servants should prioritise the needs of the people they serve and ensure access
to healthcare is a right and not a privilege reserved for those who can afford
it.


My heart goes out to the thousands of South Africans who have been
unable to receive medical care due to the ongoing National Education, Health
and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) strike.

I have been caring for my mother’s younger sister, an 82-year-old woman
who does not have medical aid and suffers from chronic illnesses such as
diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. 

My elderly patient lives in Soweto Emdeni, and we have been lucky to
have a good relationship with Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

The hospital has developed a comprehensive care plan for her, including
medication management, regular check-ups, and addressing emotional factors
affecting her health, such as social isolation or depression.

But
it has been a challenging experience during the Nehawu strike, which has made
it difficult for many South Africans like her to access the public healthcare
they need.

Last Monday, doctors at Bara had to sneak her into the hospital due to
concerns about her health, and she was treated in darkness because of the
threat posed by striking workers. Unfortunately, they could not provide her
medication as the pharmacy was closed. 

READ | Adriaan Basson: Charge Nehawu’s leaders with murder

On Sunday morning, I received a distressing call from my aunt, who was
in excruciating pain. A neighbour offered to take her to a local clinic, but
they found no workers available.

As a result, we had to take her to a private facility, the Netcare
Waterfall City Hospital and pay with a credit card. My heart goes out to those
patients who cannot even borrow money to seek alternative medical assistance.

I paid an arm and a leg for it to save the life of my elderly patient.
She is out of the woods for now, but at what cost?

To get her to the emergency ward, I had to spend R2 500. On top of that,
I paid R4 100 for a CTG scan and R1 900 for medication, bringing the total
hospital visit cost to R8 500. The prices of private healthcare are exorbitant
even for the middle class. My heart breaks for those who can’t afford to pay
for healthcare out of their own pockets.

It reminds me of a powerful quote from Amilcar Cabral, a revolutionary and
writer from Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, about the role of civil servants in
serving the people.

Cabral
once said:

Today we are fighting so that the civil servant might become conscious of his role as the servant of the people and of his responsibility towards the people and history. Tomorrow the slogan will be transformed into a principle: the civil servant, servant of the people, and the people, master of the civil servant.

These words ring true in our current situation, where public servants
must prioritise the needs of the people they serve and ensure access to
healthcare is a right and not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it.

The impact of the Nehawu strike on the healthcare system has been
devastating, and we cannot afford to ignore the urgent need for change. We must
address the root causes of this crisis and work towards a more equitable and
sustainable healthcare system for all.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla has already reported fatalities directly
linked to the strike, making it clear public hospitals have turned into crime
scenes since last week.

We must support those affected by the strike by volunteering, donating,
or advocating for change in the short term. Additionally, we must demand
greater accountability from our government and civil servants and push for
systemic changes that prioritise the needs of the people over political
agendas.

In
light of this crisis, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those affected and
my heartfelt gratitude to all those working tirelessly to support the most
vulnerable members of our society.  

On Monday, the Labour Appeal Court interdicted any industrial action by
Nehawu.

The court ruled Nehawu’s members and all essential service employees are
prevented from continuing with or participating in any strike, picket, or
industrial action.

We welcome this decision as a step towards resolving this crisis and
ensuring all South Africans have access to the necessary medical care.


Mapi Mhlangu is MD of MInsight Content Creation and former MD and editor-in-chief
of eSat Tv.


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