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About 1,000 angry and frustrated healthcare workers whose contracts of employment were terminated in December last year and at the end of March this year by the Eastern Cape Department of Health protested outside the Health MEC’s offices in Bisho on Monday.

The termination of contracts affected a wide range of healthcare workers such as health promotion workers, social workers, community healthcare workers, cleaners, admin workers and community service nurses. They came from all corners of the province including Cradock, Matatiele, Sterkspruit, Bizana and Humansdorp, travelling the whole night in hired taxis to ensure their presence in Bhisho. Most of the protesters told Elitsha that they are angry because they feel betrayed by the government they supported to fight the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. They said that they even struggled to pay for the taxis since their stipend of about R4,000 is finished and they are struggling to access the Unemployed Insurance Fund.

Nceba Sigo, a community healthcare worker from Cradock, said that government has dumped young people and left them to suffer. According to Sigo, they risked their lives and responded positively to fight the Covid-19 pandemic but now are marginalised. “Some of our soldiers, brothers and sisters who took the guns died in war against the Covid-19 pandemic but now DOH [Department of Health] has disarmed us,” he said.

Vuyokazi Mapholombo who worked as community careworker mentioned that the community expressed disappointment that their contracts had ended because they appreciated their work at the local clinic. Nomfanelo Sibenya who was employed as a general worker at Khotsong TB hospital in Matatiele believes that their retrenchment will negatively affect patients. 

Some workers told our reporter that they don’t trust that the government will really re-employ them but are rather accusing it of speaking with a forked tongue, saying one thing to their leadership but changing the tune in the media. Sandile Nodwele who came with 50 protesters from Sterkspruit, said since the premier and other heads of government were in East London they would leave the memorandum in their office for them to receive on their return.

Khosi Ntoni, another community healthcare worker from Cradock said that if their jobs are not renewed, they will suffer because some of them are older than 35 years. “Now we have persal numbers but without jobs and this will make us suffer more since we won’t receive any state benefits but we are driven back to depend on our parents’ old age grants,” said Ntoni.

Sisikelelwe Kula, a Denosa shopsteward from Queenstown claimed that though their leadership resolved with the department in March to employ their members, the department failed to implement any part of the agreement.

The protesters gave the department three days to respond to their memorandum of demands. They want the community service nurses to be at back work by the 1st of May and the rest of Covid-19 workers by the 15th. They also demanded that the department release a circular to state how they will meet the protesters’ demands instead of issuing media statements.