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10 February 2017


The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is disappointed at the lack of focus shown on the embattled public health sector State of the Nation Address (SONA) last night.  The Union bemoans the fact that the SONA failed to address the key implementation failures of government when it comes to service delivery to the people.  Hospersa is disappointed that the President made no mention of plans to rescue a depleted healthcare system at public health facilities operating on skeleton staff, while many medical professionals remain unemployed.  It also points out the failure to address service delivery issues at municipal level, as well as the lack of political will to deploy the army to violence-ridden areas in Cape Town.


Being delayed by more than an hour during which opposition parties raised various points of order, and some representatives were ejected from Parliament, the President Jacob Zuma finally delivered his speech in his usual style.  During his nearly two-hour long address, the President failed to reassure the general public on the state of public health and provide interventions to address the crisis facing the country’s healthcare.  The President’s address was mainly focused on “radical economic transformation”, an arguably populist slogan to focus attention away from implementation failures. 


He emphasised some matters covered by the National Development Plan (NDP), including land reform, agriculture, mining, support for small businesses as well as planned job opportunities for plumbers, other artisans and water agents.  However, little or no attention was given to transform public health, the standard of education and the lacking service delivery at local government, especially in rural areas.


“Hospersa holds the view that the immediate needs of the public are being neglected by the President and his team.  The State of the Nation Address failed to capture the imagination of health professionals who work long hours every day to serve communities with little support from government,” said Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines.  “This uninspiring address only mentioned healthcare in passing, but we are glad that there was at least mention of the recommendations of the Health Ombudsman regarding the Esidimeni deaths.  We are also dismayed that the President did not call for a moment of silence for the deaths of these poor people.  Still, the SONA gloriously failed to address crucial issues affecting the general public,” he added. 


Hospersa was also underwhelmed by the little attention given to the National Health Insurance (NHI).  The Union is on record that it gave its full support to the proposed system since its inception, and Hospersa has engaged on various platforms to assist with the design and implementation of the ideal.  However, Hospersa also warned that it would be important to first address the basic service-delivery challenges in public health before taking the leap to such a wholesale change.  The key issues highlighted are the structural problems of lacking human resource capacity and the paradox of staff shortages versus many unemployed doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.  These issues are further exacerbated by poor management and institutionalised corruption through cadre deployment, nepotism and shady procurement and maintenance deals.


“President Zuma only briefly touched on the NHI but failed to explain progress made since its introduction in 2012.  It is alarming to think that the President does not consider the state of public health as important enough to be given more attention in such a significant statement,” said Desfontaines.


On Tuesday the President’s office announced the deployment of 441 armed soldiers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).  These soldiers would, according to the official statement, remain in Cape Town until today to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) officers.  This decision was challenged by various political parties and some analysts even pointed out that it shows President Zuma’s “paranoia” and that is an indication of a “weak state”.


“During our campaign against the violence faced by communities and EMS [Emergency Medical Services] members in Cape Town, we have continuously requested the deployment of the army to assist,” said Desfontaines.  “However, our requests have fallen on deaf ears.  Now, it is ironic that he [President Zuma] can summon the executive power to make such a deployment for a routine speech [SONA], when there is no political will to protect the communities in the Western Cape.  It is clear that power and politics mean more to our government than people and their safety and security,” he said.


The issue of poor management and the resultant collapse of service delivery at municipal level also shined in its absence.  There was no specific dealing with the failure of government to address basic issues like water provision, sanitation, electricity provision as well as information and communication technology challenges. 


“It seems that our President has lost touch with the real issues faced by South Africans.  It would have been an important step in the right direction to take stock of the constant reports of service delivery protests caused by area demarcations, lack of basic service delivery and poor management, and reassure citizens that these matters are receiving the necessary attention,” said Desfontaines.


“It is shocking to think that after 23 years of democracy a vast majority of the public still do not have access to basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution,” said Desfontaines.  “These constitutional principles include the basic right of access to quality healthcare.  More than 85% of our people are dependent on public healthcare, and the Presidents ignorance of this important part of socio-economic redress is truly alarming,” concluded Desfontaines.



Total words (excluding heading):  918


For interviews please contact Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines – 083-321-4427.


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