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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Press Statement: The South African Human Rights Commission releases its finding into protest related action at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital

Acedemic Hospital  

Attention: Editors and Reporters
06 October 2020

In May 2018, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (“The Hospital”) became the centre of a national incident, when striking hospital staff embarked on a protest in the hospital that brought parts of the institution to a standstill and left the facilities dishevelled.  These events appeared to be the result of a long simmering dispute between hospital workers and the Gauteng Department of Health (“The Department”) over wage increases and non-payment of bonuses. The protests at the Hospital drew attention to the potential for healthcare to be similarly disrupted by protest action.
Faced with this, the South African Human Rights Commission (“The Commission”) initiated its own investigation to get clarity on the events of 31 May 2018, what led to them, and what could be done going forward. The Commission established a Panel to hear submissions from representatives of the Gauteng Department of Health, the Hospital, two labour organisations representing hospital workers, and the South African Police Service (SAPS). In particular, the Panel was tasked with determining:
a)    The cause of the protest;
b)    Steps taken by the Gauteng Department of Health and the Hospital before, during and after the protest to protect the Hospital’s patients as well as the interests of its employees;
c)    Steps taken by the SAPS in relation to the protest;
d)    The position of National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) and the Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA) in relation to their members who are employed by the Hospital, and to the protests themselves; and
e)    Any other matter relevant to the Commission’s mandate.

This report represents the culmination of the inquiry. It highlights the various factors that led to the protest action on 31 May 2018 and the impact it had on a number of fundamental rights, particularly the right to access to adequate healthcare. Furthermore the report interrogates the role of the various stakeholders in contributing to and addressing the unrest. Following the interrogation and engagement with the submissions from all implicated parties the Commission was able to make the following findings:
•    Notwithstanding the legitimate frustrations of those staff members responsible for shutting down and blocking access to the hospital, the Commission found that they acted outside of their right to assembly and protest. Furthermore these staff members did have at their disposal other avenues to canvass their legitimate grievances. The Commission found that their actions were tantamount to a human rights violation as they denied a considerable number of patients the right to access healthcare services.
•    It was the Gauteng Department of Health’s failure to adequately respond to the worker’s grievances that created fertile ground for the unrest on 31 May. The protest erupted due to a serious communication breakdown between stakeholders and these conditions put the delivery of healthcare services to the public at risk.
•    The steps taken by the SAPS on 31 May seemed to be proportionate and necessary under the circumstances.
•    NEHAWU’s leadership did make efforts throughout the disruptions to broker a solution and prevent disorder.

In light of the above findings the Commission has issued the following directives:
•    The Gauteng Department of Health must ensure that the Department, together with the hospital workforce and labour structures, undertake a joint programme of reconciliation to create a more conducive environment for communication and problem-solving. Furthermore the Department is directed to create guidelines for any future protest related disruptions to healthcare services.
•    NEHAWU should provide a report to the Commission on the outcomes of its undertaking to train shop stewards and sensitise its members to their burden of care when dealing with legitimate grievances.
•    The SAPS should implement a proactive public disclosure mechanism on protest-related incidents that it reports to the IPID to ensure public transparency and oversight on these matters.

It is through this report that Commission seeks to contribute to positive change in the public healthcare sector in South Africa. The Commission will continue to engage with the report’s findings and monitor the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report with the view to advocate for and support systemic change.

For further information contact the Gauteng Provincial Office of the South African Human Rights Commission:
Buang Jones, Provincial Manager, T: 011 877 3752 / C: 078 617 0476; E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Zamakhize Mkhize: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; 011 877 3764 / C: 061 814 7143

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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