Nehawu threat puts babies and sick patients at risk

Image: 123RF/Lucian Coman

The voice of a Nehawu trade union official reverberates around the hospital's concourse in the precinct of Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital: "We will render this hospital ungovernable".

The ominous words were a display of bravado in front of television cameras.

What might inform the logic for the official of the health workers' union to resort to using words that propagate an aim to "render this hospital ungovernable"?

As the threat was being made, mayhem was taking root, turning the hospital into a place of shame and violence.

Patients scattered and scurried around, trying to find a place of safety away from the unfolding bedlam - with the might of the union workers threatening anarchy.

The workers were at the hospital to agitate to be paid outstanding bonuses promised to them by the health department a long while ago.

At the time of the lancing of the boil last Thursday, the Gauteng health department had not fulfilled its promise to the workers.

Workers' rights should, by all means, be respected by the bosses.

When bosses of facilities in the public and private sectors fail to make themselves amenable to constructive dialogue with aggrieved workers, it seems they may invariably be putting themselves in the firing line of the employees' fury.

The chaos at the hospital appears to be the product of some kind of intransigence, and a breakdown in communication on the part of the health department's officials in resolving workers' concerns and paying the promised bonuses.

Nehawu, however, is an affiliate of Cosatu, which is part of the ANC tripartite alliance.

The ANC government is, through its Gauteng government, responsible for the running of hospitals and their governance.

The governing party purports to be a caring government.

It also makes a claim to be responsive to the needs of society.

If all of this is true, why is the health department, under the tutelage of the ANC, failing to attend to the union's demands?

Why this tardiness by the ANC-led health department?

Surely, as the senior alliance partner, the ANC had a duty to help avert the catastrophe that threatened to overwhelm patients and babies when chaos broke out at the hospital.

Let us turn to Nehawu and its threat, as expressed by one of its own on Thursday, to render the hospital ungovernable.

Viewed from any angle, the threat represents an act of hooliganism.

Hospitals restore life to those who are on the verge of losing it.

Chapter 2 of South Africa's Bill of Rights is explicitly clear: "Everyone has the right to life."

It also states that "[everyone has the right] to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources".

To go to a hospital and march on it for whatever objectives is to fail to appreciate the dire consequences that might arise if events were to go awry - that babies and other vulnerable patients might bear the brunt of it.

Why choose to go to the hospital, a public facility that houses the sick and the dying?

Why render the hospital ungovernable and run the risk of causing death and trauma to the weak and vulnerable?

Nehawu has the right to mount an industrial action.

It has no right, however, to vent its frustration on the weak, the babies - some of whom may be staring death in the eye.

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