Medical workers protest against attacks on them

Ground Up reports that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers in Nelson Mandela Bay protested outside the City Hall on Wednesday, calling for safer working conditions. “I kneel down and pray to God each time I leave home for work, asking him to save me from these criminals. They are heartless and don’t care that EMS staff perform a critical job,” said a Gqeberha paramedic and father of two, who asked not to be named. He and his work partner were robbed of cash and other valuables while responding to an emergency in Zwide last year. This was one of about 20 armed attacks on EMS workers in the 2023/24 financial year.

The most recent incident occurred on Monday, when EMS staff were robbed at KwaZakhele clinic by a group of six armed criminals. Police spokesperson Andre Beegte confirmed that the two EMS workers were robbed of their cellphones and personal belongings. “The suspects also attempted to drive off with the ambulance but abandoned it and fled on foot,” he said. The spike in attacks has also prompted requests for police to escort EMS vehicles in crime hotspot areas. “Due to the recent attacks on EMS employees, police in NMB have requested that emergency workers report to the police stations so that they may be escorted to ensure their safety as well as those of the patients,” said Beegte.

Leading the protest on Wednesday, district manager for health Sonia Lupondwana said some EMS workers have been personally threatened on and off duty. She handed a memorandum of demands to Mayor Gary Van Niekerk. The demands include a request for ward-based structures to deal with safety issues and to ensure EMS workers are protected when entering those communities. They also want metro police to commit to assist with securing the safety of EMS workers in communities. The mayor has until Friday to respond.

Mayor Van Niekerk told protesting paramedics, “None of the six demands are unreasonable. I will contact the health MEC to come to engage with me, workers and management.” On the attacks and robberies of EMS, Van Niekerk said, “We are sitting with a big problem and it’s a societal problem. No SAPS or metro police can solve this. We need the input of communities.”

by Joseph Chirume

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