South Africa Deploys Troops To Hospitals, Amidst General Strike
South Africa has deployed military personnel to hospitals as a public health crisis intensifies after medics joined other public service workers in a strike to demand better pay.
The military personnel are offering medical services in the worst affected facilities.
Public workers have been protesting since Monday last week to demand a 10% wage hike. The government has offered 4.7%.
Their union has vowed to intensify the strike until its demands are met.
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Troops have been deployed to Thelle Mogoerane, Sebokeng and Bheki Mlangeni – the regions hardest hit by the strike, a local TV reports quoting a health official in gauteng province.
Emergency teams are believed to have been unable to respond to some emergency calls as access to some facilities remained blockaded.
Health minister Joe Phaahla has said the strike had led to the loss of lives.
Police at Johannesburg hospitals were guarding entrances during peaceful protests, while in Cape Town health officials said only a handful of hospital workers were off the job.
The defence ministry said military teams were called in to aid doctors and replace striking support staff in cleaning bed linen and providing meals at 37 hospitals.
“Depending on the request, a medical team may consist of doctors, nurses and emergency health care practitioners,” defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said in a statement.
“The South African Military Health Service is also deploying personnel to assist with the cleaning of the hospitals,” he added.
Health and education officials scrambled to fill the gaps left by striking workers, calling for volunteers to work in hospitals and help students make up lost classroom time ahead of their October exams.
In northern Mpumalanga province, the education department arranged for lessons to be broadcast on the radio and sample test questions to be circulated in local newspapers.
Teachers have been the most vocal strikers, but schools began a two-week holiday on Monday.
The country’s largest teachers’ union said it planned to contest the court ordering “essential services” employees back to work, saying it was overly broad.
“We have resolved that we are not going to retreat from continuing with our demonstrations until our demands are met,” the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union said in a statement.
“Our strike is legal and we will continue to intensify our actions.”
Rowdy strikes are annual events in South Africa, where contracts come up for renewal at mid-year.
This year public workers postponed their strike threat until after the World Cup, a gesture that did little to close the gap with the government over wages.
Unions are demanding an 8.6-percent wage increase and a 1,000-rand (137-dollar, 108-euro) housing allowance. The government has moved to unilaterally implement a seven percent raise and a 700-rand housing allowance.
“Government appeals to the public sector unions to sign the offer without delay and further appeals to all public servants who are on strike to return to their posts,” the cabinet said in a statement Monday.