Health Department calls police against careworkers

Community careworkers have always struggled to be employed permanently by the the Eastern Cape Health Department, as has already happened in other provinces. Archive photo by Nombulelo Damba- Hendrick

After being violently removed by the police from the offices of the health department, community careworkers vowed to continue their struggle.

Police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse angry community careworkers who were protesting inside the offices of the Eastern Cape Health Department.

At least three workers were injured.

Eastern Cape police spokesperson, Khaya Tonjeni, said Public Order Police attended to a crowd of about 200 people who had occupied Dukumbane building illegally.

Tonjeni said a senior official present engaged with the protesters explaining that the Disaster Management Act prohibits such a gathering and also the forceful building occupation.

He said police evacuated them out of the building and a warning to disperse was issued but that the workers refused to comply. “Police used stun grenade and pushed them out of the area using shields,” he said.

The protest which had entered its second today started on Thursday, 16 July.

The workers are demanding permanent employment and have vowed to continue fighting for their rights.

On Thursday, they started singing outside the health department offices demanding to see Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba and superintendent-general, Thobile Mbengashe.

They said the Thursday protest came after Mbengashe and Gomba failed to respond to their memorandum which they had delivered to Mbengashe on the 6th of July.

The workers who spoke with Elitsha said it was Mbengashe who told them that if he did not answer their memorandum, they would be allowed to return and sleep in his office.

They were still surprised when Mbengashe sent police to shoot them.

Speaking to Elitsha, Nombeko Moyikwa from Sterkspruit, said they used a lot of money coming to Bisho hoping that Mbengashe and Gomba would finally give them answers.

Moyikwa is one of the community careworkers who was injured by the police’s violent action against the protesters.

Moyikwa said when it was getting dark they asked security guards to let them into Mbangashe’s office.

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“We were not breaking the law. He was aware that if he did not respond to our memorandum we will come to sleep in his office until he gives us answers,” she said.

“When we were inside the building, security guards started attacking us but we refused to leave. While we were inside preparing to sleep, police came and some were not even wearing masks. They told us to leave before we could even explain why we are here. They started pushing us, then they used stun grenades. Some fell because they were pushing us, some beating us with their hands. I fell down but that did not stop them as they continued kicking those who were down, shooting rubber bullets. It was like they were fighting with criminals,” said Moyikwa.

“We are not criminals we are the health workers who are assisting their families when they visit our clinics, the same health workers who are making sure that their families are taking their treatment. We are the counselors even though we are not social workers but no one cares about us,” said Moyikwa angrily.

Another community careworker who was injured during the protest, Nomphelo Sitathu, said she is very angry with the way the health department handled them.

She said they were treated like dogs as if they are nothing.

Sitathu broke her left arm and she said she was assisted by other workers after she collapsed when police deployed a stun grenade.

“I thought they were using live ammunition, I only remember hearing a big bang and the rest I heard from other people because I fell down and some of the workers fell on top of me and those police did not care about us,” said Sitathu holding back tears.

Nomphelo Sitathu, a community careworker in Port Elizabeth who broke her arm after the police used rubber bullets and stun-grenades to disperse the protesting workers.

Thobeka Faltein who is also a community careworker said police attacked her. She was trying to defend some of the workers who are elderly and could not run when police started shooting rubber bullets.

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“Police were so rude, swearing at us calling us names as if we have murdered someone. I felt their punches because I could not just run leaving workers behind. One of the officers was threatening us and we did nothing wrong here. Mbengashe was aware of the consequences of not answering our demands; instead, he decided to send police. We were not going to wait for them outside while they have offices here. We waited for them because they said they were at a funeral and with our understanding funerals only last an hour. It’s clear we are not important to them,” said Faltein.

Faltein said that they are not going to back down and that their fight will continue. She warned that the health department can play games now but they are sure of their goal of permanent employment.

At around lunch time on Friday, the Health Department Chief Director of Labour Relations, Bongani Lose, asked to meet some of the protesters.

Addressing workers. Lose said Dr Mbengashe is in East London and had asked to have a meeting with worker representatives.

When workers asked when, Lose said he did not know because Mbengashe had given him no indication.

He later gave workers an email Mbengashe sent to him.

The email reads, “As such regrettably, the province will not be able to offer permanent employment to CHWs outside the ongoing national Bargaining Council Processes.”

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson, Siyanda Manana, did not respond to our questions sent to him on Thursday and again on Friday morning.

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