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Free State nurses down tools as they demand safer workplaces



Staff Reporter

Free State health authorities are battling to contain labour unrest after nurses at two of the province’s major healthcare institutions went on strike this week demanding safer working conditions as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc.

Healthcare workers at Pelonomi Hospital’s maternity section and the Free State Psychiatric Complex downed tools on Thursday saying their lives were in danger after their colleague had succumbed to the coronavirus with several of them infected.

The striking workers claimed the provincial health department was taking long to address their concerns.

Nurses at the Pelonomi maternity unit wanted to be tested for COVID-19 and have the ward disinfected after a patient tested positive for the acute respiratory disease, with 24 of them eventually contracting it.

At the mental institution, the healthcare workers complained about a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and poor working conditions.

The health department confirmed the industrial action at the two hospitals but was quick to express its disappointment saying the nurses had resorted to downing tools at a time their concerns were being addressed.

Spokesperson Mondli Mvambi criticised some of the healthcare workers for allegedly exaggerating the situation.

“The Free State Department of Health would like to set the record straight that indeed there were industrial actions today (Thursday) at both Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital and Free State Psychiatric Complex,” he said in a statement.

Mvambi described the issue as “sponsored and clearly aimed at tarnishing the image of the department”.

“About 20 maternity ward nurses were embarking on an illegal strike demanding that their ward be sprayed and fogged,” he said.

“They claimed that they don’t have PPEs and that at times they are ‘forced’ to use the same PPEs for a whole week . . .

“I checked the record and found that PPEs are ordered from the central dispensing unit and sent to various wards on Mondays and Fridays.”

Mvambi said workers did not receive similar PPEs as the equipment was allocated according to the nature of their duties.

“Staff that work with patients to perform aerosol-generating procedures get their full PPEs, but others get PPEs in line with the guidelines and standard operating procedures which are in line with WHO (World Health Organisation) and NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases),” he explained.

Mvambi also dismissed reports that children were starving at the psychiatric complex.

“It is not true that children are starving at the Free State Psychiatric Hospital,” he said.

“However, when there was a strike there, there was obviously a regrettable delay in the provision of food but food was eventually served when management intervened through protracted negotiations with the unions.”

Mvambi said the strike started after some staff learnt that some of their colleagues and patients had tested positive for COVID-19.

“The department is disappointed by the seemingly uncaring and unbecoming conduct of some of our staff members who seem to be more committed to disruption of services than to care for patients,” he said.

“The department maintains that all channels to facilitate labour relations are open and that employees from organised labour and individuals are welcome to use appropriate channels to ensure that the management does not suppress their rights.”

He said the health MEC had even asked nurses to refuse to work when they are not given appropriate PPEs.

“It is now disappointing to see staff that is using falsehoods as justification to neglect their responsibility and embark on illegal strikes instead,” the spokesperson said.

Mvambi confirmed that two patients had succumbed to COVID-19 at the Free State Psychiatric Complex but “no child passed away”.

To ensure a better working environment at the psychiatric complex, Mvambi said an isolation unit was being refurbished and more staff were being hired.

These included 21 contract cleaners and two contract professional nurses, he said.

Mvambi said a further 23 assistant nurses, five staff nurses and 10 professional nurses were to be hired on a permanent basis.

However, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) Free State chairperson Thibogang Talbort Thole told The Free Stater disputed the point that the nurses downing tools were being unreasonable, saying he was fully aware of the challenges they were facing.

“The shortage of PPEs is becoming quite apparent,” Thole said.

“As DENOSA, we have distributed 2 000 cloth masks to our members so that they can use them before and after work.

“The system by the health department of keeping the PPEs at a central place does not seem to be working given that the demand for PPEs has increased.

“Everyone has to wear a mask while at work at all times. It’s a new normal and they have to adjust.

“In this period of a pandemic, why not change and have more PPEs available?

“Nurses are professionals and they can’t just wake up saying there are no PPEs.” Thole said the nurses from the Pelonomi maternity unit were now in quarantine but, unfortunately, one of them had passed on.

“All they wanted was to have the place decontaminated and for them to get tested. They got no joy and they resorted to protesting,” the DENOSA provincial chairperson said.


Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall



DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges



DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds



STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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