As South Africa’s public servants’ strike entered its third day, the government’s has put the security services on high alert to deal with strikers accused of violence. Many critically ill patients from Johannesburg’s main public hospitals have been transferred to privately-owned hospitals.
The government’s has reconstituted its previously disbanded National Joints Operation Command to coordinate activities of all security agencies during the strike which has particularly crippled public hospitals and schools.
Special courts are being set up to enforce to hear cases connected to the strike.
This announcement in Pretoria Friday came as increased violence took place outside Johannesburg’s public hospitals.
Some senior health workers, including doctors and nurses and some volunteers have tried to continue with their work.
The government says strikers have prevented them, sometimes violently, from going to work and from trying to interfere with surgical procedures.
At the security announcement, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi warned strikers that interrupting medical operations was murder.
“If you go into theater where somebody is being operated on and you disrupt, you are actually committing murder,” he said. “You are killing that human being. You are saying because you want certain rights or because you are angry, somebody must die and actually kill them … members of society…. it doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.”
In Johannesburg Friday, the provincial government of Gauteng was granted an interdict by the labor court making it a criminal offense for anyone to interfere with health workers.
In the south of the country, the Eastern Cape health department said it was considering legal action against workers as they continued to block entrances to several hospitals. Spokesman Sizwe Kupelo described some actions by strikers as “barbaric.”
In Johannesburg, private hospitals have admitted at least 80 new-born babies, sixty of them premature and in critical condition. Many had not been fed for 24 hours before their transfer. The private hospital said it will not charge patients or the government for the treatment.
There are distressing scenes outside some of Johannesburg’s enormous public hospitals, A child had an epileptic fit outside a Johannesburg hospital early Friday when strikers would not let him enter the building. A heavily pregnant woman went into labor and collapsed outside the same hospital
Medical staff from the South African army and volunteers have moved into several Johannesburg hospitals Friday to help out.
The strikes at schools comes as senior pupils should be preparing for final examinations. The school calendar has already been disrupted with longer than normal mid -year holidays while South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup.
Other unions, including the South African Municipal Workers’ Union said Friday it was considering launching a strike in sympathy with public servants.
Unions are demanding 8.6 percent wage increases and $137 monthly housing allowance. The government is offering 7 percent plus $96 for housing.
The government says it cannot afford to meet the unions’ demands, but further negotiations are expected late Friday.
Most lower level medical and teaching staff wages are far lower than their counterparts in the private sector. VOA