As North West communities wait for the ANC to decide the fate of Premier Supra Mahumapelo, things have gone for bad to worse as health services in the province are close to total collapse.
Just when he was breathing a sigh of relief after the army’s health services – a team of nurses and doctors – took over collapsed health services at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi was told more health professionals were downing tools in other areas.
This comes as the more than month-old Nehawu strike gained momentum.
Serious threats were reported at hospitals in Lehurutshe and Taung.
Nurses at Mahikeng Hospital were forced to down tools by either joining the strike or, according to Motsoaledi, they stayed away because of threats from pro-strike colleagues.
Over the last few days, family members were forced to remove some of the seriously ill-patients from deserted wards in Mahikeng.
The hospital has also become overburdened after at least five clinics were forced to close their doors two weeks ago.
Mahikeng was plunged into scenes of chaotic violence last week with communities demanding Mahumapelo’s removal.
The other challenge for the health department was that the pharmaceutical depot in Mahikeng, which supplies all clinics and hospitals across the province, was also closed as part of the strike.
Motsoaledi was relieved to say the depot has since been taken over by army officials and that chronic medication and other medical supplies have already started moving.
With 40 nurses already deployed by the army at Mahikeng Hospital and 17 more still expected, Motsoaledi said a lot of work has already been done.
Seven doctors have also been deployed and nine more are on their way.
Motsoaledi said in the last 24 hours the soldiers already delivered 21 newborn babies – including six caesarean births.
“The situation is normalising there but unfortunately I can’t say the health situation is normalising. The report in the morning was that trouble was starting elsewhere all over the province in areas where there is no strike ... health workers were being followed home and intimidated,” he said.
“It is a very grave situation in as far as health is concerned. We have secured Mahikeng but all other districts are now starting, so we need to develop a plan and discuss with the army because their mandate was Mahikeng and the medical supply depot. This is a bigger problem perhaps than health.”
Motsoaledi said they were aware of Nehawu’s demands, adding that they will “meet those that are health-related but other demands are beyond the department of health”.
“There is no way I can meet a demand as a minister of health that the Premier (Mahumapelo) must go. Even the demand that the HOD (head of department) must go.
“I am the one who said I don’t think this HOD should continue running health services in the province because he is running them down. In terms of the law, both myself and the MEC of health have got no power to remove, suspend or even hire an HOD.”
The minister was referring to the recently suspended HOD of health in the troubled province, Dr Thabo Lekalakala.
This comes after an exposé on dubious contracts awarded to, among others, Mediosa which is a Gupta-linked company.
The same company was paid R30 million in advance before they could start working on the ground in their R180 million mobile clinic services.
“I am happy at long last, but after a lot of damage, that I understand (Lekalakala) has been suspended (which is something) I demanded more than a month ago. I told Nehawu they should know it is not the MEC and myself who are not willing to meet their demands, but are there political problems which need to be resolved somewhere,” Motsoaledi said.
“I am happy that the President (Cyril Ramaphosa) and officials of the ANC have been here and we’re leaving everything in their hands. I just want to secure services for people who are sick.”
Meanwhile, calm continued in Mahikeng. Not all workers reported for duty on Monday amid poor operation of public transport.
Some schools also advised parents to pick up their children earlier in the day after social media messages warning that violence could disrupt again.