SOUTHERN AFRICA: Archbishop calls for end to public service strike

August 19, 2010

South Africa's public service strike is hurting hospital patients and students, and the government and unions should act to end it, says the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Aug. 19 called for essential staff in institutions such as hospitals to return to work immediately.

"Our country is facing a huge crisis at this moment," the archbishop said."Striking essential public service employees and educators are, however unintentionally, causing much anguish and even physical suffering."

The Star newspaper reported Aug. 19 that six people, including two infants, died as militant strikers blockaded the Natalspruit Hospital in Ekurhuleni near Johannesburg, and striking public servants pledged to shut down government institutions.

Hundreds of dancing protesters were reported to have blocked entrances at the Natalspruit, Chris Hani Baragwanath, Helen Joseph and Weskoppies hospitals near Johannesburg.

Eleven nurses and two doctors at the hospitals attended to about 500 patients with security guards left to look after more than 20 babies, who had not been fed for nearly the entire day. The army was understood to be preparing to bring in its doctors and nurses.

In a message to the strikers, who are demanding a 10 percent pay hike, Makgoba said, "We understand your plight and your rights to seek justice in terms of fair and adequate salaries and other benefits, especially in the face of corruption by some government officials.

"However, the present strikes are creating suffering -- for patients in hospitals, especially those who are seriously ill; for out-patients no longer able to receive much needed medication; for students, who are working hard to prepare for matric examinations; and for learners who are trying to develop a culture of education."

The archbishop added, "These strikes are doing a great deal of harm to our country -- and this is something we cannot afford to continue."