Striking workers clash with police outside hospital

The Nehawu strike in Khayelitsha has been marked by a heavy police presence. Photo by Asive Mabula

The police became heavy handed as they tried to prevent the strikers from blocking the entrances to Khayelitsha District Hospital.

Scenes of confrontation between striking workers and staff members who are not part of the strike, and blocking of entrances to government buildings, including hospitals, have been reported around the country on days two and three of the strike by Nehawu. On Tuesday morning, public servants blockaded both entrances to Khayelitsha District Hospital (KDH) which resulted in staff not being able to enter or leave the hospital according to their shift changes. There was a heavy police presence outside the KDH with a City of Cape Town Law Enforcement inyala and two from Saps, and about six police vans and a kombi. Police used stun grenades to disperse the striking workers.

The Department of Public Service and Administration was granted an interdict against the indefinite strike, which the union is appealing. 

“We were not aware of the plan as management of the hospital. I have not been allowed in, alongside some of my colleagues,” said a member of management outside the hospital. Managers who remained outside unable to attend to their work, negotiated with Nehawu members for ambulances to be allowed through to transfer patients. 

An ambulance with two critical patients, including a pregnant woman, that need to be transferred to Tygerberg Hospital, was the centre of much argument. It was eventually released and allowed to transfer the patients. The only vehicles allowed in and out were a hearse and vehicles transporting medical specimens. 

“The ongoing disruption by protesters has directly resulted in staff shortages as they are prevented from entering, backlogs building up and other operational challenges,” said Abulele Dyasi, hospital spokesperson. “The hospital condemns any action that infringes on clients and their human right to access healthcare.”

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The striking workers are demanding a R2,500 housing allowance, filling of vacant posts and permanent employment of community careworkers. Photo by Mzi Velapi

On day three of the strike in Khayelitsha, the Michael Mapongwana Clinic and KDH surroundings were again guarded heavily by police.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has condemned any violence during the strike. “While we fully support the striking workers and believe that their fight is a legitimate one, we regret the disruption to public services which the strike has caused and any violent incidents or damage to property,” reads Cosatu’s statement. 

Members have been urged to conduct their strike in a peaceful, disciplined and lawful manner. Meanwhile the acting Public Service and Administration minister and the former general secretary of the teacher’s union, Thulas Nxesi has characterised the strike as being “unlawful” and that the no work, no pay principle will apply to employees embarking on the strike action.

Khayelitsha Home Affairs’ services also remained suspended for a third day.

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