“This goes so far and no further. People have a right to life and a right to work and we will protect those rights no matter what,” the minister said.
Sisulu on Monday visited Dr George Mukhari and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals where hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and military medics had been deployed.
The deployment was part of a larger scale military deployment of thousands of troops and military medics to 73 hospitals in all the country’s provinces, except the Western Cape and Northern Cape.
Sisulu, along with the heads of the South African National Defence Force, Army and Military Health Services and Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi visited the hospitals after nearly 3 000 soldiers and military medics were deployed on Saturday to protect patients and non-striking nurses and other medical professionals.
Close on 2 000 nurses and support staff have gone on strike over higher wages.
Sisulu at times appeared furious while listening to doctors, nurses and patients telling tales of horror caused by strikers.
“In my opinion this is completely unacceptable. We have a constitutional mandate to protect government facilities and we will execute this mandate no matter what.”
Asked what measures the SANDF had taken, Sisulu said they had deployed armed troops and vehicles to the hospitals to protect patients and staff from strikers.
“We will not allow this intimidation to continue. We will be expanding our mission and will provide security to ensure that patients return to hospitals and are no longer kept away.
“With the assistance of the police, we will ensure that we deliver. We have a big responsibility but we will do it and I don’t think these strikers will dare to continue with their actions now that we are here. Intimidation and violence are criminal offences and we will make an example of those who try to commit violence,” she said.
Sisulu said troops would be manning gates, entrances, buildings, wards and vital infrastructure to ensure that they remained open.
A doctor at the hospital said the presence of the soldiers was a huge relief.
“We need them. The situation is tense. Those on strike know where we live. They have visited our families and have told them to tell us that if we don’t join the strike they will be killed.
“We are trying to save people’s lives, but these people are not interested. They don’t care about lives.
“They don’t care about their oath. All they care about is feeding their fat stomachs and drinking,” said a nurse, who asked not to be identified.
Another nurse said she had witnessed patients coming to the hospital being intimidated and turned away at the gates.
Confirming this, Motsoaledi said they received reports of patients and their families being threatened and being stopped from coming to the hospitals.
He said as a punitive measure, pay would be deducted from the strikers at the end of the month.
“In the past we deducted money of the salaries of strikers on a monthly basis for every day they strike, but now we will take it off as a lump sum.”
Meanwhile, volunteers at various hospitals around Pretoria continued to save the day on Monday as they filled in for support staff who are on strike.
Mamelodi Hospital spokesperson Nelson Machaka said the hospital was not hit too hard as medical staff weren’t on strike and community members were helping.
“We have a lot of people from the community, especially the elders, coming out to help where they can. The shortage has mostly been with support staff.
“But we have many people coming in to help, so we have not been hit as hard as some other hospitals in the city,” said Machaka.
Police were also present around the hospital to prevent intimidation of non-striking workers as per the court interdict obtained against strikers last week.
Kalafong Hospital spokesperson Catherine Tladi said they would not survive without the help of the volunteers who had come out in numbers to help.
Most of them started working at the hospital on Sunday and different people were coming in daily to assist where there were shortfalls.
“They are helping out with the cooking, cleaning and laundry, because most of the people on strike are the ones doing those jobs.
“The South African National Defence Force is helping out on the medical side so we are covered on that front as our nurses are continuing with their duties,” said Tladi.
Beauty therapist Mercy Ramothata said she would help at the hospital for as long as she was needed.
“I actually came when a friend told me she was here at the hospital helping out, so I decided to come as well.
“I think the patients need our help as the community so that is the main reason why we are here,” said Ramothata.
Another volunteer Lerato Matshoge said she had been encouraged by her mother to go help out at Kalafong.
“My mother is actually a nurse so she told me that my services were needed.
“We have been helping out with the cleaning and distributing food to patients in the maternity ward,” she
A maternity patient, who was admitted on Sunday evening, said when she arrived at the hospital some people were saying she would not be helped because of the strike but eventually she did receive help.
She also heaped praise on the volunteers, saying they had made life a lot simpler for everyone in the maternity ward with the cleaning and the distribution of food.
“I am really thankful of what they have been doing here, with the cleaning and everything.
“They have really helped us a lot,” said patient Tilly Ledwaba. Pretoria News