Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Thursday afternoon described an unprotected strike by staff at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital as “hooliganism”.
“I regard this act not as an act of labour but an act of pure hooliganism,” said Motsoaledi during a press briefing at the hospital.
Aggrieved doctors and nurses trashed the hospital and disrupted operations on Thursday morning over bonuses that they are owed by the department.
During a tour of the hospital on Thursday afternoon, Motsoaledi inspected several affected sections.
Staff who continued to work through the disruptions told the minister that a “mob” demanded that they stop working and ordered some of the patients, many of whom had travelled a long way to get treatment and medication, that they should leave the hospital.
Both Motsoaledi and Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa were appalled to see rocks used to disrupt ambulances transporting patients, tyres that had been burnt in front of the hospital and rubbish that had been strewn across the corridors of the hospital.
Unpaid bonuses no excuse, says Motsoaledi
The doors of the pharmacy were broken by the protesters and taps had been deliberately opened to flood some sections of the hospital.
During a press briefing after the tour, Motsoaledi said the department did not deny that it owed the employees their bonuses.
“The general staff are owed bonuses, they have been paid their salaries and pay progression. The Gauteng department of health does not deny that they owe them that money. I understand that the matter was even discussed at the Gauteng cabinet meeting about the process to start paying them.”
He said the fact that staff were owed money was immaterial.
“I do not want South Africans to get used to the idea that when they are angry and aggrieved, in a country that has such strong democratic laws and institutions where people can go when they feel aggrieved, they could do what they wanted (sic).”
He said the workers’ actions were unacceptable because of the negative effect they had on the vulnerable.
Only 19 out of 50 operations performed
“This is not a mine or any other place of work, where you work with objects, this is a hospital where there are sick and vulnerable people, many of whom do not even know the problems between the workers and the government and they should not know. The fact that they are made victims like this is unacceptable.”
He said the pharmacy manager told him that when “the mob” arrived they instructed the patients to leave. The patients apparently refused to leave without their medication.
“That is not [a] behaviour that we expect from human beings who are aggrieved, especially those with justifiable grievances. They then went to the theatre and took the masks and then covered their faces. What they were doing was hooliganism.
“Today this hospital was supposed to do 50 operations, unfortunately they could only perform 19, they could not continue with the 31 because of the trashing of the theatre.”
He said he was disappointed to hear that when the police arrived they did not take any action.
Motsoaledi said he had seen a placard saying that the Guptas were taking all the money from the hospital.
“This hospital has nothing to do with the Guptas, the patients have nothing to do with the Guptas. How can you now punish them? It is completely unacceptable. I regard this act not as an act of labour but an act of pure hooliganism.”
Another Life Esidimeni
He said it was of great concern that there could be people employed at the hospital who had the audacity to stop others from performing their duties.
“That person is a murderer and we cannot have a murderer in our midst. What if patients die overnight?”
He said he would be consulting with Police Minister Bheki Cele to try and have those that were responsible arrested.
Ramokgopa said: “This is another Life Esidimeni unfolding.”
The health MEC commended the doctors and nurses who were determined to serve citizens under the conditions which they faced.
“They continued to work with patients and looked for ways and means of caring for the patients. Even at the theatre, the doctors cleaned the trash and continued to save lives. Those are our heroes.”
Ramokgopa said it was not true that the government did not care for its employees.
“We have given our commitment that we will find a way of dealing with outstanding bonuses,” she said, admitting that there had been no funds to pay the bonuses.
A meeting is expected to be held on Friday to try and resolve the matter.
The hospital is fully operational and services are continuing.