Community health workers close clinics in Khayelitsha

| Nombulelo Damba
Law enforcement guards Kuyasa clinic after it was shut down by striking community health workers. Picture by Masixole Feni.

On Tuesday, striking health workers led by the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) closed six clinics in Khayelitsha, including Zakhele, Kuyasa, Youth, Mayenzeke, Matthew Goniwe and Luvuyo clinic. They will march to the Civic Centre in Cape Town tomorrow.

Patients at Kuyasa Clinic, Khayelitsha, said they were attacked by the striking community health workers.

“I have the flu,” said patient Gladies Ntabo. “No questions were asked, they started attacking us, vandalising clinic material, ordering people to leave the clinic.”

Ntabo said she noticed something strange when she arrived at the clinic. She said all the nurses were wearing their civilian clothes and two police vans were parked outside.

“We were not even more than 30 [patients]. Nurses took our clinic cards so they can look for our folders,” she said. “As we were sitting, a group of people barged in and they started beating us. We ran … but there was no way out.”

Ntabo said their only option was to jump a high fence.

“A man working at the clinic broke his leg. Luckily the fence fell, and we all rushed to escape,” she said. “I fell on the fence and cut my hand. I was so scared, I thought they were going to kill us … Nurses were not wearing their uniform; the strikers could not identify who is a nurse and who’s not.”

A striking community health worker, who asked not to be named, said things are just starting. He said they will continue closing clinics until the City of Cape Town meets their demands.

“Since 2012, we have been asking the City to remove Dr Viginier de Azeredo, Sharife Platel and Bukelwa Mbalane as our management, because they are rude and they do not care about us. We have been complaining about security, lack of stationery … but all our complaints fell on deaf ears,” he said.

Samwu Metro Regional Chairperson Lennox Bonile said striking was their last resort after the City failed to meet workers’ demands.

“We were suppose to start the strike last year, but we postponed because they promised to look at our demands,” said Bonile.

He told GroundUp that they had summarized the workers’ grievances down to 34 complaints. Among these are the unfair dismissal of staff and the City refusing to hire their members permanently. Instead, the City keeps them on as casual workers for years.

City Mayoral Committee Member for Health, Councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, said his department appeals to the staff to allow the relevant investigation to run its course.

Mamkeli said, “It is therefore unfortunate that staff members opted to take this particular course of action, causing great inconvenience and disruptions to services, negatively impacting on the affected communities.”

He said his office had been engaging with the staff about the grievances. However, given the lack of progress made, a CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration] commissioner was appointed as a neutral party to investigate the issue.

“The hearing was booked to take place in March 2015. Unfortunately, Samwu was not available and the investigation had to be postponed to mid-May,” said Mamkeli.

Regarding complaints about security, Mamkeli said health facilities in Khayelitsha have a security service and they are connected to the Law Enforcement Department’s Rapid Response Unit.

“Unfortunately, there are still security concerns and we appeal to the surrounding communities to be vigilant, look after and help to protect their health staff,” he said.

“Health is considered an essential service and industrial action is therefore not permitted. There are specific processes in place to resolve industrial relations and these need to be respected.”

Western Cape police spokesman Colonel Thembinkosi Kinana said the Khayelitsha police had no knowledge of today’s incidents.

TOPICS:  Health Labour

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