A CHILD’S DEATH SIGNALS TIME FOR COOL HEADS
Nandi Mayathula- Khoza is the Gauteng Social Development. (Picture by Gladwell Ntusi.)
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) embarked on a national strike from 13 March 2017 to date.
In dispute, is the Rural Allowance for Social Service Professional and the Review of the Resolution 1 of 2009 which is about the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) for social Services Professions (SSPs) entry level salary. All the matters under dispute are matters of national competency.
The OSD is in the purview of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and as such, its amendment and/or review can only be done by the DPSA. All these matters are under discussion in the Bargaining Council. We hope that those involved in these engagements will find solutions soon.
As public representatives of a democratic government, we are amongst the first to defend the right of workers to strike and the right for every South African to protest. These are fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution. However, it is one thing to protest to demand ones rights and it is quite another to place the lives of innocent and vulnerable such as children, the elderly and the disabled in harm’s way.
ACTS OF VIOLENCE AND INTIMIDATION
Last week Thursday, I received disturbing reports about the striking workers who had barricaded entrances at all our centres barring essential supplies such as food, medication, cleaning services and the laundry. I was told how some of the children who have chronic illness such as HIV/AIDS could not access their medication or food. Attempts to enlist assistance with ambulance services did not yield the desired results as access to some of the hardest hit child and youth care centres was denied more than once.
From Friday until Sunday the MEC together with the Head of department and other senior managers visited the worst affected child and youth care centres for the most vulnerable in society such as orphaned and vulnerable children, people with disabilities and elderly. We started in the Tshwane Region then moved to Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg centres as these were amongst our severely affected centres.
It is what we saw at the Itireleng Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCC) that touched us the most. We were confronted by scenes of frightened, hungry visibly distraught children and severely traumatised remaining staff who have been locked in for several days. At this point we became worried and concerned about the well-being of the department’s beneficiaries at all our institutions. Our thoughts went out to the elderly, frail, disabled and vulnerable children. We immediately contacted leaders of NEHAWU provincially and locally to appeal for restraint. We felt obligated to share this sad news with the people of Gauteng and to appeal for their support under such trying circumstances. It was for this reason that we called yet another press conference to appeal for calm in dealing with this matter.
THE DEATH OF AN INFANT
We were jubilant that despite all that we went through during the week, we did not have any fatality. You can imagine how numb and defeated we felt yesterday when we received the news of the passing of a six-months-old baby Singalakha Sonamazi. Even though she was diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and had low birth weight, hoped in and out of hospital since birth, nothing can prepare anyone for such tragic news.
Let us state upfront that at this stage it is unclear what caused the little girl’s death, but the fact that we had to move her along with 90 other children due to the acts of violence as experienced last week, makes our work to protect children very challenging indeed.
Singalakha and her three older siblings (8 years, 6 years and 5 years) were initially admitted at Walter Sisulu Child and Youth Care Centre on 31 January 2017 in terms of Section 150 (e), (f) and (h) as they lived in circumstances that exposed them to harm and physical neglect. She, along with her older three siblings were removed and placed at Walter Sisulu pending finalisation of the Children’s Court Enquiry by the Westonaria Children’s Court.
On 14 March 2017 due to the NEHAWU strike action, she together with twelve other children were transferred from Walter Sisulu Child and Youth Care Centre to Bethany Trust Home (Child and Youth Care Centre), a registered and proper Non-profit organisation. The transfer was effected in order to ensure optimal care of the sickly girl child in the light of the unavailability of the required number of Child and Youth Care Workers and at Walter Sisulu Child and Youth Care Centre during the labour strike.
Singalakha was placed at Bethany Trust Home CYCC and received all the necessary medical and child care services. During her stay at the said facility, she gained weight and her health improved. However, shortly before 05h00 yesterday morning (21 March 2017) the child was fed her bottle as per routine. According to Child and Youth Care Worker on duty, she observed that the baby closed her eyes and stopped moving. She then removed the baby to the napkins changing room where they tried to resuscitate her to no avail. According to the ER 24 report, CPR was administered on the baby for 47 minutes and the baby was declared dead at 06h45.
The Bethany Trust Home CYCC Managers reported the matter to SAPS shortly after the baby was declared dead on 21 March 2017 at around 06h42. The Inquest docket was opened on 21 March 2017 (docket number 556/03/2017) at Krugersdorp SAPS. Sergeant Munzhelele handled the initial report to SAP. The deceased baby was transferred to Roodepoort government mortuary.
Arrangements have been made by the Social Work Managers to notify the family and provided psycho-social support to the parents during this period of bereavement. A further needs assessment will be done. The family is from Tambo Section in Bekkersdal, in the West Rand.
As soon as it became clear that we are dealing with a protracted strike we made contact with all licenced NPOs managing CYCCs to enlist their assistance in placing children as we embarked on a process of decanting the institutions for effective management and effective care for the children. We also approached the Gauteng Department of Health to dispatched health team for an assessment and a proactive measure for the prevention of communicable diseases. We enhanced existing Security contract by increasing capacity of guards on site and also shared with them the court order for ease of implementation on their part. The department was in touch with Provincial Commissioner and shared the court order as well as the receipt of acknowledgement by NEHAWU leadership for law enforcement in the event the order is violated.
APPEAL FOR CALM
As we mourn the passing of the little girl, let the moment provide us an opportunity to reflect as a society. Perhaps this could be the time when we should be able to say no to protest action that violates the rights of the most vulnerable whose custody has been entrusted upon us, and those employees that are not on strike (both NEHAWU affiliates and non NEHAWU affiliates) at all cost. We believe that this moment of the tragic passing of the little child should call upon all of us, in the spirit of humanity to find ways to put aside the differences and find one another urgently.
We cannot reconcile the complete disregard of human life with the principles of democracy and human rights as encapsulated in our constitution. We therefore call upon the leaders of the unions involved in the strike as well as their negotiating partners in government to find each other speedily so that we can prevent more fatalities.
It is in the spirit of Ubuntu and a caring society and communities that we thank and ask the people of Gauteng to continue providing the support they have shown since we pleaded for help. In our meeting with the Premier David Makhura yesterday to break this sad news to him, he indicated that he may be forced to request the assistance of the South African National Defence Force to assist in rendering services to our vulnerable beneficiaries, if the current situation does not change for the better.
As we do this, we appeal to our workers to exercise their right to strike and to be mindful of the communities and beneficiaries that we serve. Labour issues are indeed important, but in addressing them let us not compromise service delivery and let the innocent beneficiaries suffer. We continue to appeal for non-violence demonstration, free of intimidation as opposed to the current three fold form of blockages at most institutions (chains and locks at the gates, followed by huge stones and burning of tyres as the third form of barricade). That will ensure the safety of and service provision to those in our care.