CHAOS broke out outside Kalafong Provincial Tertiary Hospital yesterday when police fired stun grenades to intervene in violent clashes between EFF supporters and Operation Dudula members.
Since early August, a group of Operation Dudula members had been holding anti-foreigner protests outside the hospital, with reports of patients and staff being intimidated. Operation Dudula had blocked the entrance to the hospital and turned away patients who they believed were undocumented foreign nationals, based on the colour of their skin and the language they speak.
On Friday, 26 August, the Gauteng MEC for Health obtained a court interdict from the Pretoria High Court prohibiting the group from “threatening and denying” patients and employees access to the hospital.
The interdict was pinned to a noticeboard outside the hospital. However, Dudula was undeterred and on Monday the group resumed protests outside the hospital, demanding to see people’s ID documents.
This eventually led to violent scenes of members of the Operation Dudula and EFF activists throwing stones and empty bottles at each other at the time Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla visited the facility to inspect the impact of the anti-foreigners protests on hospital operations.
The situation was tense in the morning before the clashing groups had a go at each other during the day.
Some EFF members, clad in party colours, confronted picketers from Operation Dudula preventing undocumented foreigners from gaining entry at the centre for medical treatment.
This was not the first time the two groups have clashed. In July, the two groups clashed at the scene of a Soweto tavern shooting. Before that, the EFF accompanied its former branch secretary Victor Ramerafe to open a criminal complaint against Operation Dudula’s leader, Nhlanhla Lux.
The “fighters” also had a heated exchange of words with the police, who were accused of failing to execute the court interdict obtained by the Department of Health on Friday, barring picketing outside the hospital.
All of a sudden the EFF members physically attacked the picketers, forcing them to flee from the premises. The attack, according to witnesses, took place while journalists were in the hospital boardroom waiting for the minister to address them.
When journalists finally walked outside the hospital, there was no sight of Operation Dudula protesters. It was, however, rumoured that they had gone to mobilise other members and that they might return later in the day to retaliate.
The situation got ugly later in the day when Operation Dudula members, who were earlier dispersed by the EFF, returned in numbers to fight back.
This time it was the EFF members who ran for their lives while confronted by Operation Dudula supporters, who whipped them with sticks and sjamboks. They also burnt EFF flags.
Both parties threw stones and bottles at each other. The police intervened by firing rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the EFF members, who were said to have started the fracas. Operation Dudula members stayed put and continued to chant songs at the hospital entrance.
Following what Phaahla called a “fruitful” meeting with the leadership of Operation Dudula at the hospital on Thursday, the minister said Dudula’s leadership had agreed to stop protesting and would engage in further consultations with the government over the grievances it had raised.
Minister Phaahla said some of the concerns raised by the group included “pressure on the hospital”, “long queues”, and “allegations of people stealing medicine and corruption”, which Dudula blames on foreign nationals.
For the past three weeks, protesters have been preventing undocumented foreigners from assessing medical services at the facility.
EFF Gauteng spokesperson Phillip Makwala said his party members were not fighting anyone, but were worried that the police were doing nothing to execute the court interdict.
Makwala earlier said: “We are not fighting here. We are here to make sure that our people access Kalafong peacefully without interruptions.”
Doctors Without Borders in South Africa were worried that protests preventing patients, including migrants, from accessing the medical care amounted to xenophobia.
They also expressed worries that the hostility towards migrants at medical centres was fuelled by inflammatory and political statements from government officials, including Limpopo Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba, who was recorded berating Zimbabwean patients in health facilities, claiming that migrants were overburdening the health system.
Addressing journalists, Phaahla said the protests were “unwarranted” because Section 27 of the constitution was very clear that the State must make sure that people living in the country have access to health services.
“We do accept the fact that our services are under pressure and if this demand from across our neighbours keeps on increasing, it will reach a stage where it is not sustainable.”
While Phaahla acknowledged issues raised by the demonstrating group, he said it was not up to ordinary citizens to think that they could help the State.
“We would like to appeal to Operation Dudula that these challenges – the government, which you put in place, is addressing them,” he said.
Phaahla said the issues raised by Ramathuba were genuine but were made via the wrong medium.
He said the department had not received reports about intimidation of health professionals.
Operation Dudula’s national administrator and greater Tshwane regional secretary, Pat Mokgalusi, said Dudula was satisfied with the engagement they had with the minister.
“We had a very fruitful meeting with the minister and the management of the hospital. We are going to work together from now on, engaging on different issues,” said Mokgalusi.