Soldiers to ensure order at schools, hospitals

Date: 08 Jun 2007
'We'll show you', Cosatu's Vavi tells government as Bara hospital closes down The public service strike has entered its eighth day with fighting speak from the unions, who promised to bring government services to a halt. And an emergency meeting yesterday by the country's security ministers has resolved to deploy police officers and soldiers to schools and hospitals to ensure order. Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said last night: "They will be deployed to ensure those who want to work can go to work, those who want to learn can learn and those who want to go to hospital can do so without being subjected to violence or intimidation." Troubled areas in Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, Western Cape and Limpopo would receive special attention, he added. Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, meanwhile, has continued to maintain that demands from striking workers for a 12% wage increase were "inaffordable". She hit out yesterday at a "narrow debate" on percentages and at public servants who refused to properly consider the government's revised offers. And as negotiations continue, pupils continue to bear the brunt of the strike, with some Joburg schools evacuated yesterday after receiving threatening phone calls. Hospitals also look set to continue to be badly affected. Workers at Chris Hani-Baragwanath yesterday promised Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi that they would bring public service in the country to a halt. Vavi visited the hospital to brief striking workers on developments in negotiations with the government, telling them they had no option but to continue to withdraw their labour despite a revised pay offer from Fraser-Moleketi of 6,5%, which Vavi said amounted to "unfair bargaining." "We sell our labour. We determine the value of labour. We will withdraw our labour until they make an acceptable offer," he told the workers. "If the government does not respond, we will show them. On Wednesday, all Cosatu affiliated unions will also go on strike," he promised. He also called on the police to escort union members when they "go to close" Johannesburg Hospital today. "The strike will continue over the weekend with all the essential services now joining in," he added. Dr Arthur Manning, CEO of Chris Hani-Baragwanath, issued an urgent statement last night saying the hospital would be closed to all patients except emergency cases until further notice. "All outpatient departments will be closed down until further notice. All booked patients are requested not to come to the hospital unless their health status deteriorates to such an extent that they require specialist care," he said. He added that visiting hours had been cancelled and staff were requested to come to work as early as possible. All industrial action would also be prohibited on the premises. Fraser-Moleketi said in Pretoria yesterday that the government's revised offer contained "much more" than a 6,5% wage increase. "Workers make an assumption that there is very little movement … rather than getting an indication of where there is movement." She was confident and optimistic about bargaining council negotiations, which were set to continue today. In his reaction, Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the federation had consistently condemned any violence and intimidation and dissociated itself from it. However, he said the deployment of security forces was an intimidatory tactic, with the use of stun grenades and water cannons being especially provocative. Cosatu would again call for discipline from workers, but "you must understand how angry some of them feel", he added. "We will urge them to use persuasion rather than intimidation." The Johannesburg Deeds Registry office has been hit hard by the strike - as well as an armed robbery. SA Police Service spokesperson Lungelo Dlamini yesterday said 14 men had held up two guards and entered the building on Sunday evening. About 15 to 20 computers and R2 000 in cash were stolen. Several Joburg schools had to be evacuated yesterday as the strike intensified. Parents were met with chaotic scenes and crying kids when they were told to fetch their children early after principals received threats to their and the children's safety. At Buccleuch Primary School, staff had to send about 300 SMSs to parents to fetch their children. "I believe it is business as usual. We are on our way and we cannot be held responsible," a caller told principal Charlotte Struwig. Sandringham High School also received a threatening phone call and was subsequently evacuated. A distraught mother, Madaniya Agjee, said she had received a "hysterical" call from a teacher at Arthur Matthews Primary in Roodepoort about 9am and was told to "get here now!" When she arrived to get her daughters, aged 11 and 7, Agjee was met by tears and scenes o f panic. "There were three police cars and the children were crying," she said. "The teachers told us they had to evacuate the school - but that's all they would say. It was total chaos. "My kids were so traumatised that they clung on to me and said they never wanted to go back." The Star Seaside Fund trip to Durban scheduled for next Wednesday has been cancelled due to the civil servants' strike. By Baldwin Ndaba, Boyd Webb, Bonile Ngqiyaza, Poloko Tau, Alex Eliseev, Nape Raditlhare & Sapa The Star 08/06/07 e1