Nehawu health-workers in North West who have been on one of the longest strike to hit this essential service for almost three-months have returned to work.
The Union says it has now decided to suspend its strike following intervention by the national government, and will afford an opportunity for their issues to be resolved.
The strike, which was clouded by reports of intimidation to other workers allegedly by striking workers, led to a widespread closure of clinics and hospitals.
It was then followed by sporadic incidents of protests by various communities which advertently called for the reopening of health services accusing the provincial government to have failed them.
The consequences of the strike were undoubtedly felt by the poorest of the poor who could not afford private health care – among them patients of Klerksdorp/Tshepong hospital complex.
The hospital could not accept patients from other hospitals across the province who needed specialised medical care. They also could not refer patients to other major hospitals.
Now the situation is expected to slowly normalise. Nehawu says their grievances have not been met, but they are giving the national government a chance to resolve them.
Provincial Secretary of Nehawu Patrick Makhafane says at least 60% of their members are now back at work.
“You will recall that we have been away with services for some time. We are now saying let’s give services to our people because we can’t continuously punish our people when the real perpetrators of the exploitation and all the injustices we are suffering as Nehawu members is actually the employer who is mandated by government. And government has taken over through Section 100 saying they want to look into the issues. We are giving them that opportunity to look into the issues.”
Patients who could not access health services say they are relieved, but have cautioned government to resolve workers issues before they affect the most vulnerable again.
In some hospitals admitted patients were left to care for themselves as doctors and other health professionals on duty were reportedly intimidated.
“We are very happy that the clinic has been opened because without a clinic there is no life, especially for those who take chronic medication. You can’t be without medication,” one patient said.
Another one says, “People have been suffering. Even pregnant women. It’s important for clinics to be functional and service people.”
Non governmental organisations have warned that the consequences of the strike will still be felt even long after it has ended.
North West Health MEC Dr Magome Masike says SANDF members assisting at Mafikeng Provincial hospital will remain there until the situation is back to normal completely.