This weekend South Africa witnessed two incidents of violence that demonstrate the dangerous conditions under which emergency health workers work.

On the 29th of June at the South Rand Hospital, Rosettenville, security guards are said to have fled when three men stormed the hospital in pursuit of a man they had apparently assaulted and injured earlier on. Video footage show medical personnel arguing with the three men, who proceeded to drag and kicked the injured man before leaving the hospital.  

In a separate incident on the 30th of June, men armed with knives stormed into Phola Clinic in Thokoza, Johannesburg to look for a man who had been stabbed earlier. They moved from room to room searching for him and in the process damaging properties and traumatizing clinic staff.

We therefore stand in support of our affiliate, the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa (DENOSA), to withdraw their members from working night shift in an unsafe working environment.

These incidents at health institutions demonstrate the twin evils that South Africa has to deal with: violence in society and the lack of a safe working environment for essential service workers in the discharge of their duties. There is no doubt that in both cases, heath workers were at the mercy of violent and dangerous criminals who entered their workplace. However, cases of attacks against health workers at the hands of patients have also been reported.

As further proof of the lack of a safe working environment, within the past month the following incidents have been reported by Emergency Service Workers while on duty:

  • On 29th June in Cosmo City, Gauteng, Emergency Service Workers responded to a case of assault. When trying to assist the patient, the community turned against the workers demanding to burn the patient alive because they alleged that he had murdered someone in the community. As a result, the city has withdrawn its services from Cosmo City.
  • On Wednesday 26th June, paramedics were robbed at gunpoint in Soweto. The two paramedics were attending to a patient when a car pulled up next to them and they were robbed of their belongings.
  • On the same say, paramedics in KwaZulu-Natal were stopped and robbed at gunpoint while attending to a patient in Phoenix, Durban.
  • In mid-June, paramedics were ambushed by 12 men who robbed them at gunpoint in KwaNoxolo in the Eastern Cape.
  • Cases of fake emergency calls have been reported, which ended up in robberies and in one case, an all-female emergency team was raped.

The situation is so bad that in the City of Cape Town, around ten areas have been designated “red zones,” meaning that ambulances cannot enter them, during certain hours, without a police escort.

And this is not a new phenomenon as these attacks have been sporadically happening over the years. The attacks are a symptom of a malady in society that seem to be getting worse and is bent on taking society hostage. The frequency and the gravity of the attacks has reached a level beyond the scope of ordinary Occupational Health and Safety. Emergency services are daily risking their safety and lives on duty, while attempting to save lives and provide immediate help and assistance in situations of life and death.

As such, in the short-term, South Africa should come up with mechanisms that guarantee a safe and secure working environment for all workers, especially those who are vulnerable to such violent attacks. Workers should feel safe to discharge their duties with care and attention. Workers will only be motivated enough to deliver quality public services if they feel their concerns are being addressed, and if their efforts are being appreciated both by employers and the communities to which they are delivering these services.  

In the long term, South Africa needs to work towards eliminating violence and crime in society. Statistics show that Cape Town has recorded 3,900 murders and in unenviable position of being among the most dangerous cities in the world. This is happening in a city that is very important to the national economy as one of South Africa’s major tourist attractions. The nation should therefore strive to create a social fabric underpinned by the principle of Ubuntu.

We therefore stand in support of our affiliate, the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa (DENOSA), to withdraw their members from working night shift in an unsafe working environment such as the Phola Park Community Health Centre in Thokoza, Johannesburg.

We also offer our solidarity to all the workers in the Health and Emergency Medical Services. They have a right to a safe and secure working environment.