About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Sep 1995: The Baragwanath Nurses' Strike

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Are there any nurses working?

X     There are no nurses at all, it's only the matron.

POM     What happens to the patients who are lined up?

X     Matron can tell you something but not me. They are stabbed and shot, like this one now she needs a doctor, there are no doctors.

X     No, no, they have seen the doctor, they need medicine.

POM     And there is no medicine available?

X     The matron can give the medicine.

POM     Is the medicine locked up?

X     But the Matron can give the medicine.

POM     But will she give it or does she - ?

X     The doctor.

X     Not yet, but I am just saying here that the matron is going to give me the medicine.

POM     OK thank you, I know you are doing a very difficult job. Do you know where the matron is?  You said you are struggling?

X     For what?

POM     Patients coming in and being taken care of.

X     Since I'm working here we don't want the patients to give the interviews, to talk to someone, things like that.

POM     Yes but it's important that they do, don't you think so?

X     No, you see they are very intimidating.

POM     But you said you're struggling. Struggling to take care of things? Can I talk to you?

X     No, no, I am not allowed to.

POM     Not allowed to, by whom?

X     I'm ethical, I'm not allowed to give any information except the PRO or the matron in charge.

POM     Are you satisfied that - ?

X     Please go down there.

POM     Down there and talk to?

X     The matron in charge. She has been with me here. When you go down you see -

POM     Have you been working day and night? Can you show me where to go?

X     I am trying to show you.

POM     Thank you I appreciate that. I know you're very, very busy and don't want to be disturbed.

X     You see where those ladies are, just at that door on your right. That's the matron there, you will find her there.

POM     Thank you.

X     This is how we work.

POM     Everybody refers me to somebody else. Can you take me to somebody who can actually give me some information because you are the fourth person that I have been referred to?

X     I am referring you to Mrs Vorster who is the PRO for this hospital.

POM     Do you know where she is? Could you take me.

X     I'm not taking you there.

POM     Why would you not take me there? Are you working?

X     Yes I am. Why?

POM     Do you find it very disturbing that all the nurses are out? Can you answer that?

     I should contact a Mrs Vorster at 9424383, but you will not allow me to use the phone to contact her. Is that correct?

X     That is the telephone number.

POM     I mean, is that correct?

X     It is.

POM     Why won't you allow me to use the phone to contact her?

X     Do you want to use this telephone? OK you can use it.

POM     I was told to contact a Mrs Vorster whose phone 9424383 never replied to anything. The staff is meeting us with unremitting hostility. I don't know why. Why can't I ask you a question about what's happening with the patients where you say -

X     I just said to you we have a PRO.

POM     But she's not there.

X     Her name is Mrs Vorster and you can speak to her.

POM     But she's not there. I am still holding. Hello. There's no reply at all so she's obviously gone home.  Dial it again. Why are you being so hostile? Are you willing to tell me what your name is? Ma'am? There is nothing on this phone at all. Nothing.

X     Just put it down.

POM     Now you say you have a PRO person but the PRO person doesn't exist, the phone doesn't answer and all I'm trying to find out is some information as regards what's happening to the patients and how you're dealing with the situation and why do you find that so difficult to answer to?

X     Is there nobody answering there?

POM     There's nothing at all. I am not trying to entrap you or do anything. I'm doing a report for the BBC and the report will be broadcast in the United States just about what's going on in the hospitals and how patients are being treated, and people all over the world are concerned. I think you know that. Don't you?

X     Await the call, somebody is getting Mrs Vorster.

POM     I don't want to disturb you and I really appreciate your help and I understand you're under a lot of stress. I am waiting here in one of the ante rooms, presumably waiting this time for a Mrs Vorster who is the PRO person. Next to the room that I was standing in with the matron is a little lounge and there is a man and a woman in the lounge and they are watching television and relaxed, so to speak. One could not say more. Excuse me, I'm from the BBC and from the United Nations and I've been asked to do a report on what's happening because people all around the world are very concerned about what's happening in this hospital.

X     Would you like to speak to that gentleman over there?

POM     Why can't I talk to you?

X     Because I've just come on, I'm just relieving at the moment.

POM     So you're working or are you on strike?

X     No I'm working, I'm a worker.

POM     But you're not a nurse.

X     I am a nurse.

POM     You are a nurse and you're working. Are you under a lot of - well you deal with the patients.

X     You must speak to - but he's the co-ordinator here.

POM     The co-ordinator of?

X     Of the whole -

POM     Could I talk to you for a moment? My name is Patrick O'Malley I'm doing a report for both the BBC and for CBS News in the United States and as you know there is a lot of concern around the world about what's been happening in the hospital here. It's a big story and I would like to find out from you what's happening, how patients are being cared for, whether the nurses will stay on strike or whether they will follow President Mandela's instruction to quit or go back to work or whether this is an action that is going to spread to other hospitals because the workers here are so badly underpaid and under such a burden?

X     All I can say to you is about the whole strike and the pay and all those things, you must speak to the Superintendent of the hospital. I can't give you any answers. The Superintendent of the hospital, or you can speak to the matron next door.

POM     The matron won't speak.

X     OK. So then I'm very sorry, because we're not the hospital staff so I can't tell you anything about it.

POM     You're not hospital staff?

X     No, no, we're from the army but -

POM     You're from where?

X     The army.

POM     You're from the army? Oh I didn't know that. You're from the army too?

X     Yes.

POM     So you're here as - ?

X     All the army people are working in the wards. Yes, all the nursing staff.

POM     Could you take me around?

X     No.  The matron will kill me.

POM     The matron here? No she won't. Let's walk in.

X     You can walk on your own. You can go in, they won't do anything to you, you can go in.

POM     I can go any place I want?

X     Yes.

POM     But everybody here, essentially the army has come in and is providing the medical facilities which are needed. Is that correct? OK, I'm not badgering, I'm just trying to get -

X     Some news.

POM     Not just news because the people all over the world are very concerned about a kind of an action where this kind of tragic situation arises. OK? Thank you. Where will I find the army? Is this the army?

X     In the wards.

POM     In the wards. Could somebody take me, can you just take me to a ward, just walk me to one?

X     They say it's not possible for us because we're all going up to Casualty but I can give you a map or directions to the specific wards that are open at this stage, because there are a lot of wards that have been closed down.

POM     They've been closed down because the patients have been moved?

X     That's right.

POM     Moved to other hospitals?

X     And to other wards as well.

POM     So is the army moving people out of here to other hospitals?

X     No, no, that's the hospital. They're moving the people. We're just helping them in the wards. So I am going to just show you -

POM     Just show me the way around. I would appreciate it.

X     Just go down here, there where that lady is crossing.

POM     With the red jersey passing?

X     This passage crossing here now, this is the main passage. You can go to all the wards if you walk along this passage.

POM     And I need to take a left or a right?

X     You turn right, you're going to walk up to P junction, you go left, up to ward 1, up to ward 19, you will see them. If you go straight down here you'll get ward 19 up to about 38 and if you turn left and right you will get all the other wards up about 43 and then there's the maternity wards and those wards are all over the show.

POM     All over the place.

X     That's right, but you can get 43 of the 88 wards you can get in this vicinity.

POM     And your name is?

X     Captain van Deventer.

POM     From the SANDF?

X     From the South African Medical Services.

POM     Thank you very much, I appreciate it.   I'm trying to get some information on what's happening in the hospital because there's a lot of interest and worry around the world about what is happening.

X     Unfortunately I've got no information, I'm just a visitor.

POM     Do you work here, sorry you're just a visitor?  Are you visiting somebody who is in a ward?

X     Yes.

POM     Is the ward down here?

X     Yes.

POM     So I could walk down there?

X     Then turn left and there it is.

POM     Do you feel secure that the person who you visited in hospital is being taken care of well and that you needn't worry?

X     Yes, sure.

POM     You do? OK, thank you.

     Could I talk to you for a moment? I'm from the BBC in London and we are doing a report on the hospital because the world is very concerned about what is happening to the patients here and whether they are being taken care of and whether their relatives are satisfied with the quality of care they are getting in the absence of nurses being here. Are you visiting?

X     We are visiting.

POM     You are visiting. And are you satisfied with the care that the person you're visiting is getting?

X     Yes we are very satisfied because he is feeling better.

POM     He is feeling better. Have things improved over the last couple of days?

X     Well we wanted to bring him here on Saturday then until today he is better because he was bad when we brought him here. Now he is feeling better, much better. His face was swelling up and the body and the neck but now you can see him, he's perfect.

POM     You are the patient? You look much better. What happened to you?

X     They stabbed me in my back.

POM     They stabbed you in your back?

X     They hit him, they kicked him.

POM     Who stabbed you?

X     Gangsters in Soweto.

POM     In Soweto. So are you going to stay here now for a couple more days?

X     I was discharged today but there was something wrong.

X     They took out the tubes, they put the tubes to bring the blood just about here by the heart side, so now they took it out and air got into the lungs.

POM     So are you going to stay here for another couple of days?

X     Maybe tomorrow I go or Monday they will discharge me.

POM     Do you feel you're being well taken care of or are you worried?

X     They are taking care in the day but in the night there is no good care.

POM     No good care at night.

X     Yes, because the soldiers take care.

POM     What's your name? Do you mind my asking?

X     My name is Margaret.

POM     Margaret. It's an Irish name. I'm from Ireland. Margaret is a very Irish name. Margaret what?

X     Margaret Morogolo.

POM     And you are?

X     Thabosile.

POM     OK. Thank you very much. I don't mean to hold you up. You really feel all right?

X     Yes we feel much better because he is better. The thing is we just want him to be all right, to be well.

POM     To be home.

X     Yes to be at home and living with us again.

POM     OK. Thank you. Bye bye. How are you sir?

X     Not bad.

POM     My name is Patrick O'Malley. I am a reporter from the BBC in London and I am doing a report on what's happening in the hospital because a lot of people around the world are very concerned about what's happening here. Are you a patient here or are you visiting someone?

X     Actually I am not a patient, I am working here in the hospital. Yes, I am just in the nurses' kitchen working down there.

POM     How have you found the situation? Has it been very stressful on you?

X     Not so stressed because the nurses are angry now?

POM     The nurses are in there now?

X     No they are not there. We are just supplying a couple of wards down there, 55, 56.

POM     Could you tell me where to find them? I'd like to talk to some of them.

X     If you go straight down you will see the gate there.

POM     And they are the nurses who are on strike?

X     No the nurses are not around.

POM     The nurses who are on strike aren't around?

X     No, no. I am showing where they are staying, in their dormitories there.

POM     In their dormitories. So the nurses down here are nurses who are still working?

X     No, no-one is working actually.

POM     No-one is working?

X     No.

POM     OK. So I go down about 55 yards?

X     Yes. It's Ward 55, 56 there.

POM     Thank you very much I appreciate it.  Television, television, soccer games. Excuse me, I'm from the BBC in London and I'd like to talk to some of the nurses who are around. I was told they are in ward 55 or ward 56. Is that possible?

X     May I please have a look at this?

POM     You can look at that and you can look at this also. Are you working? You're not a nurse are you?

X     Yes I am working. My name is Enika Tenjane.

POM     And you're still working? You have not gone on strike.

X     No.

POM     Have you been working around the clock? Has it been very difficult? You've been working a lot?

X     Yes we have been working a lot. We are overworked so far I can say so.

POM     You are overwhelmed.

X     Overworked.

POM     How many hours a day are you working now?

X     Well usually we start at quarter to seven until four o'clock and there are some who work from quarter to seven, then they break off at half past twelve, then they come back at four o'clock and then they break off at seven o'clock. Well it's the usual time but we are having a lot of patients so far so you find that we are just a limited staff and there's too much work.

POM     Do you work at night too?

X     No I don't work at night.

POM     Are there many people who do work at night?

X     Well so far at night there are soldiers who do work at night.

POM     So the army with their Medical Corps has moved in and they are doing a good job, I would assume?

X     Well they are trying, they are doing their best.

POM     Yes, like everybody else. Is there some place you could point me to where I could go and talk to - ? 9338000 and I ask for?

X     Just say any student.

POM     You're a student, you're not actually a nurse?

X     I'm a student nurse.

POM     I want to tell you, I will never use your name so you needn't worry about that at all. You will never get into trouble. Do you know where I should go to talk to some more nurses? Go back? Go back to where?

     Essentially the army has taken over here, the army Medical Corps that is, and are running things. This has not been publicised but what is very interesting is the fact that people do not want to talk at all and are afraid of being identified, which is rather surprising since nobody -

     Could you tell me, I'm from the BBC in London and I'd like to talk to some nurses, could you tell me where they are?

X     Student nurses or what?

POM     Not student nurses. Are there any nurses around besides student nurses?

X     No.

POM     Only student nurses. Are you student nurses?

X     No. Doing food.

POM     You're doing food. It smells good. Do you feel very overworked?

X     No.

POM     Do you think all the patients are being well taken care of?

X     Yes.

POM     Who should I go to talk to if I want to talk to somebody who talks for the nurses?

X     The matron.

POM     I went to the matron and she said, "Get out." You know what matrons are like. Where are the wards? Is this a ward here?

X     Yes.

POM     So I can just walk in there. Thank you. I have been directed to ward 15. The only people who are working are in fact student nurses and again there is a great reluctance on their behalf to talk to anybody. I am now entering ward 15. Hello, nice to see you again. Can I talk to you for a moment. My name is Patrick O'Malley and I'm from the BBC in London and we're doing a report on the situation here because there's a lot of concern around the world about what's going on, as you can imagine. There are no nurses around?

X     You can ask me questions but we are too many. We are too many nurses in the ward. We are many nurses in the ward, but student.

POM     Oh student nurses. But there are no registered nurses?

X     No. You have one nurse but she is white. I think she's a volunteer from another hospital. She doesn't belong to Baragwanath Hospital.

POM     She doesn't belong to this hospital. Now have the army come in here and provided medical assistance?

X     They are doing very well. They do help us a lot, they send us support. Because for us it's too difficult to cope because there are no sisters who can supervise us. Sometimes you find problems like there are schedule drugs which the sister should administer but we, as students, are not supposed to administer those drugs.

POM     Are you a student nurse too?

X     Yes I'm a student.

POM     You're very competent.

X     Is it?

POM     You're going to pass all your examinations easily. How do you feel? Do you feel that it's wrong for nurses to go on strike and leave patients?

X     On the other side it is a long time since they demand their rights, but on the other side I feel hurt about the patient because last time they discharged many patients and I feel that those patients they were very seriously ill, they were very ill but the doctors they discharge them. I remember one died. He had pains in both legs and he was seriously ill and the doctors discharged that guy. I was hurt when I came back from being off and I find that he has been discharged.

POM     So are you working very long hours?

X     Yes, working very long, overtime. I am still wondering whether the government will pay us for those hours because we don't work according to the hours which we were supposed to work. For example, our time is seven o'clock and when we are supposed to go off for tea, our tea time is 9.30 to 10, it's difficult for us to go for 9.30 to 10 o'clock because there are many patients, the work is too much, it's difficult. I am still wondering whether the government will pay us for that overtime.

POM     How many hours a day are you working?

X     Eight hours.

POM     You're working Eight hours a day.

X     But sometimes you work for ten hours.  Sometimes you do sacrifice, you don't go for lunch, it's too difficult, you don't go for lunch. Most of us we don't go for the lunch.

POM     Do you think this strike is going to end quickly or it's going to on for a long time?

X     I think Mr Mandela and Nkosazana Zuma must do something. I mean the nurses, they are not suffering, the people who suffer most are the patients. I think both of them, Mr Mandela and Nkosazana Zuma they have to do something, something must be done quickly.

POM     What's your name?

X     My name is Nightingale Magong.

POM     That's after Florence Nightingale? The nurse? Have you heard of her?

X     Yes I heard of that Nightingale. I read about her in Standard 5.

POM     And she worked hard in very difficult conditions, just as you are doing.

X     We are trying.

POM     Who else should I talk to around here. Are there patients that I should talk to?

X     You want to talk to the patients?

POM     Would that be all right?

X     I don't know which one.

POM     Well why don't you just take me to some. How many people are in this ward?

X     I was in Ward 8, I was working in Ward 8 but unfortunately because of the doctor there discharging many patients I moved to this ward, I came here today. This is the sister who I was talking about.

POM     Now is she a nurse?

X     Yes she's a nurse but I think she does not belong, she's a volunteer.

POM     She's a volunteer. OK. Thank you very much. I'm a reporter from the BBC in London and we're doing a story on the hospital and what's happening. Do feel you're getting good medical care, that there's nothing to worry about? What do you feel?

X     As you are aware the strike is taking place outside here. I think the remaining staff that's inside here they are trying their best to do whatever they can. We are getting good medical care and all that but we still miss those who are outside because what is happening now is even people that get hurt outside and all that are being sent away.

POM     They are being sent away?

X     Yes. Some of them. They are only taking emergency cases. Now to me what is an emergency case? How do you describe this is an emergency? Must you see a person bleeding, what about a person probably he had an accident, he's not bleeding, how do you refer to that? A person who is sick is sick whether it's an emergency or whatever he's sick. A patient is a patient and all that.

POM     How long have you been here?

X     This is my seventh week here.

POM     Seventh week? My, that's a long time. Something happened to your neck?

X     I had a car accident and my neck got damaged.

POM     How long more do you expect to be here?

X     In fact I had a traction on the neck here, something that was attached to my neck, metal pieces and all that. It was just removed yesterday, that was Friday, and then on Monday I am going for physiotherapy which I think another two, three weeks I will be going home.

POM     You will be glad to go home?

X     I will be very much glad to go home. I am missing home.

POM     Your name is?

X     My name is Tulane from Diepkloof, Zone 6, here in Soweto.

POM     OK, thank you very much. I really appreciate your talking.

X     I am George Ngobe.

POM     Are you getting adequate medical care? Do you get worried?

X     No we are not worried, we are getting everything all right.

POM     You are?

X     Yes.

POM     How long have you been here?

X     From the 16th August.

POM     And when are you going home?

X     I don't know. I am waiting for a doctor. Maybe Monday.

POM     That's why you've a smile on your face.

X     I don't know because he said I mustn't move, I must keep on lying on a bed.

POM     What happened?

X     It's a car accident.

POM     A car accident?

X     That's right.

POM     With your legs is it?

X     The right leg under my knee so it's broken inside.

POM     Are you in a lot of pain.

X     Yes I'm having a lot of pain but if I tell them they give me the pain killer, they do, no problem.

POM     No problem about - do you get morphine?

X     No.

POM     What kind of pain killer, is it like aspirin?

X     No there are injections which they give us, there are tablets for pain.

POM     And they are good enough?

X     Good enough.

POM     Make the pain go away.

X     Just like now they were giving me.

POM     OK, good luck. Thank you for talking with me and take care of yourself when you get out. No more rushing around in cars.

X     It's me and a bus, I was driving.

POM     That's a bad combination.

X     When a bus turned from the robot so I thought the robot is closed for them so I came and bumped on it, that's the trouble.

POM     Well God bless that you are alive and well. OK, take care of yourself.  I want to know whether all is well, whether you have anxieties about the kind of medical care you are getting.

X     No, at the moment I can say I haven't got any comment.

POM     No comment?

X     No I haven't got any comment.

POM     Why have you no comment? Is it good medical care or is everything up in the air?

X     No I can't say anything about medical care.

POM     Nobody will ever know who you are.

X     I can't tell, I don't know.

POM     Why?

X     I don't want to involve myself in this hospital strike.

POM     You would never be involved because your voice will only be heard in London and in the United States so nobody will know who you are and I will never identify you. I will just say you were a patient. Is that all right?

X     No it's all right that, but I can tell you that at this moment we are receiving good care here from the SANDF and the South African Medical Services they are providing us with good care. I hope maybe this problem will be resolved some time next week.

POM     When did you come in here?

X     I've got seven weeks in here.

POM     You've been here for seven weeks? What's wrong?

X     I was attacked by car hijackers and they shot at my left thigh.

POM     Where, where were you?

X     Right in Soweto, I was driving around Soweto.

POM     How long more do you think, is your leg going to recover?

X     I was supposed to undergo an operation but because of this strike they keep on postponing it.

POM     Are you in pain?

X     At the moment receiving good care mainly. I have been able to relieve my pain by the South African Medical Services.

POM     But do you get enough pain killer to kill the pain?

X     I can say so. I can say yes to that.

POM     And you still have no idea when they are going to do the operation?

X     No I don't have any idea. Maybe as soon as the strike is over, or maybe when I am transferred, I don't know, to another hospital. Just waiting for their results.

POM     Well take care of yourself and thank you for talking to me and since I don't know your name, your name will never be used anywhere and it's only people in the United States and Britain who will hear your voice and they won't know who you are either, but thank you for talking.

     Can I disturb you for a moment? I'm from the BBC in London and have been assigned to do a story on what's happening here. As you can imagine the rest of the world is very concerned. I understand that you are a volunteer nurse?

X     I'm from the SANDF.

POM     Have many of you came in? Have you effectively taken over control of the hospital?

X     I think it's best if you talk to the person in charge, Captain Auret, the person in charge of the voluntary help here, I think it would be best if you go and talk to her.

POM     Where would I find her?

X     I will find out for you. It's best if you ask the matron.

POM     I think I talked to the matron before and she said, "I don't talk", but thank you. Do you expect to be here - when did you come in here?

X     Only today.

POM     How do you find things? Things here look very much under control.

X     Yes but I think it's best not to give any comment. It's best if you talk to the person in charge of all this.

POM     OK, and that is?

X     Captain Auret.

POM     Again, people afraid to talk. Is there real intimidation, one doesn't know. I'm now going into Ward  - have been moved to Ward 14. Ward 13 has been locked up, I guess all the patients have been removed and taken to Ward 14 and Ward 14 is full of men who suffer from various conditions ranging from bullet shot wounds to car accidents who are saying they are doing all right despite the fact that many of them have had operations postponed and all agree, more or less I think, that they get adequate pain killers and that they are not in a great degree of pain. The problem here is that I can actually get nobody who will really talk. Everybody puts one on to somebody else, it's either the matron, the Captain of the SANDF or student nurses who are unwilling to allow their names to be revealed, so it's a situation of intimidation to say the least. I am now pushing a white man and I will see who and what he is or what he does and whether they are getting adequate care or where they are being moved and what's being done with critically ill patients. Can you say anything about the situation?

X     Here in the hospital? No, the situation is not bad.

POM     It's not bad? So do you think that the press are over-playing it in terms of what they say is going on?

X     No, the Superintendent has called upon the SADF to come and help here so it's not bad. So the SADF he knows well about the job. They can afford to assist the patients inside the wards, even the patients are so very glad about this.

POM     Are the patients, people who are in pain, are they getting their painkillers or do they have to suffer, just bear with it a bit?

X     No. The SADF is just near.

POM     You're saying the SANDF have essentially taken over and are running things?

X     Yes.

POM     That's good.

X     There are some other wards which have been closed down just because of the condition, whereas the qualified staff is on strike, sisters, even the doctors have tried their own best to come and help the patients, whereas the amount of the patients here in Baragwanath is so very big.

POM     If I want to go to some of those wards where should I go?

X     You can go to that high building on that side, the medical wards.

POM     This one is which one now? I go right down here and that will lead me to H1. That would be a good ward to talk to people in? Do you mind giving me your name or would you prefer if I didn't use your name?

X     I would prefer that, my name is Maxwell Moruwevela.

POM     Thank you very much. I really appreciate your talking to me. Good luck, I hope you don't have to work around the clock all the time. So I just take a left here and follow through. Thank you. Again there's the reiteration of the feeling, one doesn't get the feeling that there is in fact a crisis here, things are very calm. The wards are astonishingly not only modern but more well kept than many wards that I've seen in other countries, with television and food on time and the food actually looks and smells good. I am now heading towards the medical building which is, I don't know where. Which is the medical building? Is this a ward? Which ward is this? Is this ward empty? Ward 9. Are you a visitor?

X     I'm visiting.

POM     My name is Padraig O'Malley and I'm here to see how the patients are doing and how the staff are coping. For example, you work here, are you working longer hours, have things changed since the army has come in? Is the situation easing in tension or is it spreading?

X     Well I cannot predict just now because the people are going on strike but I have no prediction at the moment. I have got no words to say.

POM     I would like to go to a ward, a maternity ward or a ward where babies are being cared for. Do you think you could take me there?

X     No, not at all because I must be around here.

POM     Where should I go?

X     I can just give you a direction over there. From here we are straight at the corridor, turn right.

POM     That's up where the cars are?

X     Yes you will find a corridor there and you go straight with the corridor and then at the four-way stop you turn left and you will find Casualty there and then they will show you the way to Maternity.

POM     OK, thank you very much. Again, what one gets is a passivity, that no-one indicates whether they are for the nurses or against the nurses. In fact what one senses at best is just that there is an absence of nurses and that that vacuum is being filled by the SANDF coming in and taking over. Again, I suppose I can't over-exaggerate the normalness of the situation. This is a very nicely laid out hospital, all the floors are one-storey, there are adequate spaces between the beds, there are birds coo-cooing in the background and there is something called SAW which has been completely closed down, so there are in fact a lot of patients who have been moved out of here. One can't get a tally of the total number of wards involved but patients either have been discharged or sent to other hospitals. I have now two young women coming towards me, one black, one white and they look suitably intimidated. No, both coloured. Excuse me, I am a reporter for the BBC in London. Do you speak English? I am doing a report on the hospital and what's happening here. Do you work here?

X     Yes.

POM     Do you mind talking to me about what's going on and how you're coping and dealing with it?

X     OK I don't mind.

POM     This is your big opportunity. Your name is?

X     I am student nurse, Phindi.  We are very busy in the wards, there are no sisters, they are still on strike so it is a very hard situation because they refuse to come back to work and then from Friday till now.

POM     Do you think they are right or do you think that the duty of a nurse is always to be there for the patient?

X     No, they are not right, but I don't know what can I say, I can't blame them because I don't know what are their demands really.

POM     How many hours a day are you working now?

X     It's 40 hours a week, still the same.

POM     You're still doing 40 hours a week?

X     Yes, but we are overloaded, there is more and more work for us. It's too much.

POM     I would like to talk to some women in the Maternity ward and in the ward that takes care of children. Could you show me the way to go there?  Are you learning more because you're working so much?

X     Yes we are learning more and more, a lot of experience, we are experiencing some more things.

POM     Are any of the patients - Oh my God! What happened to your hand?

X     I got an accident in April this year.

POM     What happened?

X     The taxi overturned. I was one of the passengers.

POM     You're lucky that you're not dead.  Will this heal or are you taking treatment for it?

X     Yes I'm taking treatment for it, I'm still under treatment.

POM     OK I'll let you go and thank you very much.  Excuse me, my name is Patrick O'Malley. Could I talk to you for a couple of minutes about what the situation is, how you see it, how patients are being taken care of, how patients are being moved out or would you prefer not to? I will not use your name. Your name would only be heard in Britain and the United States, or if you want your name to be used you can use it if you wish to use it.

X     I just do it now, I can't get nothing.

POM     OK, what's happening?

X     Where, here? No this is bad.

POM     What position do you work in?

X     In fact I'm TPA Security, we are the ones who are watching here at the hospital, what is going on.

POM     Do you belong to the SANDF?

X     Yes, to the SANDF.

POM     You do?  And you're in their Medical Corps?

X     Yes.

POM     Did you come in today or yesterday? When did you arrive here?

X     Yesterday.

POM     Did you find things in a very bad condition?

X     Yes bad conditions.

POM     Do you think things are under more control now because the SANDF has in fact moved in?

X     No, nothing has been going on, it's still the same, there is no change.

POM     Are a lot of patients in pain?

X     There are a lot of patients in pain, a lot of patients are dying. Nothing is going on right.

POM     And is nobody talking to each other?

X     No.

POM     That must be very painful for you to go round from ward to ward.

X     Yes of course because we are going all over the ward but the situation is intense.

POM     Could you take me to a ward where I could perhaps talk to some patients? I've gone down there.

X     No, because now I'm in a hurry, I'm on duty now.

POM     So if I want to go to the Maternity Ward is that down here?  Where is that? Left here? Where are the children being taken care of or have they been moved out?

X     No, all the children they have gone home.

POM     They've gone home? They haven't been transferred to other hospitals? They've just been sent home?

X     No they are just sent home, they are cared for at home.

POM     Have they transferred many patients to other hospitals or do they just send them home?

X     Others are transferred to other hospitals, others they are at home.

POM     Do you work here?

X     No.

POM     Are you visiting?

X     Yes.

POM     Is the person you're visiting getting good care?

X     No, they don't care.

POM     They're not getting good care?

X     How can they get it whilst people are not working?

POM     I think I'm approaching the Maternity Ward and this is a really rambling hospital. The last man I talked with was a member of the Medical Corps of the SANDF and he was the first person I think who has actually said that things are not in good shape, that a lot of people are suffering and that a lot of people are dying and he was quite despondent about the situation saying in fact that nobody was talking to anybody and that nobody could see an end to this tragic situation in sight. I am now approaching a number of men, I don't know whether they work for the hospital or not but I shall find out in a moment.  Excuse me, I'm trying to find out whether the patients, in your view, are being adequately taken care of, whether adequate medicines are being given, whether things are under control or whether it's not a very good situation at all?

X     Unfortunately I don't work here.

POM     Are you a visitor, visiting a relative or somebody who is sick here?

X     He's been discharged now.

POM     So you're glad he's been discharged?

X     Yes.

POM     Was he anxious to get out of here?

X     No his doctor says he's OK, no problem.

POM     But he's glad he's going home?

X     Yes he's already going home now.

POM     Thank you very much.  You work here do you? How have you found the situation in the last three or four days?

X     The situation is boring. Actually it doesn't give someone something like a sense that they like, something to think positive. What has happened is completely not acceptable, that's what I can say.

POM     Which is unacceptable, the striking?

X     The striking.

POM     You think that people who take care of ill people shouldn't go on strike?

X     Yes, they must think of the community, that's the first thing that they have to think of first, the community first. If they fail to think positive for the community then it's useless for them to appear here.

POM     Now have things improved since the SANDF have come in?

X     It's a bit better, I cannot comment that much. I don't work near the wards. I am working far away from the wards so that's why I cannot comment too much.

POM     Are there nurses around at all? Is anybody talking to anybody?

X     As I've said I cannot comment too much. I haven't observed any talking and the like.

POM     Do you feel under a lot of stress or are you, as you say, just kind of bored because nothing is happening?

X     I can say I am feeling a little bit stressed because actually this thing it's killing me inside actually because I am thinking of the community, so if the community is not well served then I don't have any word to say.

POM     Do you mind if I use your name? This will be broadcast in Britain and in the United States.

X     No, don't use my name.

X     It's nice and quiet now.

POM     It's very quiet, it looks as though nothing is going on at all. Could I visit the Maternity Ward or could you point me in that direction? Have things improved a lot since the SANDF came in? Are things more under control since the SANDF came in?

X     There's the Maternity there.

POM     Where's the Children's Ward?

X     I don't know really. I have no idea.

POM     Which ward do you work on?

X     I'm not working here.

POM     You're not working here? Who are you? Are you a volunteer?

X     Yes.

POM     From where?

X     From Loreto.

POM     Oh you're all going away. Nobody wants to talk except one person, well I see one white woman over here. Maybe she will talk. Who knows? Are you going to smile and say something? No? Does it disturb you what's going on?

X     I've got a terrible headache.

POM     Have you been working long? You can't talk? Have you been to the Maternity Ward?

     I'm now interviewing Patricia.  Miss Keefer, you have been using your AID and USIS and CIA ears around here for the last hour and half, what have you picked up? You're not going to behave like the rest of them and say nothing? Oh, one has got to keep talking to this machine. This is for children. In fact this is a very well laid out hospital. Do you not think so? I've talked to many people but I would like to go through the Children's Ward if that would be possible.

X     You can go in there.

POM     Would you take me around that I could talk to some of the children?

X     There are people inside.

POM     Thank you. I have now entered the Children's Ward, babies crying. Are you working here, are you a student nurse? I want to know in particular how the children are being cared for, whether they are being kept here or being moved out to other hospitals? Can you talk?

X     Yes, we are doing very well, we are coping. We've got nine kids here.

POM     Nine children in this unit? Do you get help? How many of you are running this unit? There's yourself and do you have other students? So it's all students who are doing the work?

X     Eight students.

POM     How many hours do you work a day now?

X     Eight hours a day from 7 to 12.30 and then come back at 4 o'clock. Sometimes we start at 7 to 4 o'clock.

POM     So you do eight hours every day. Crying in the vicinity. Follow. How are you coping with the children? Is it difficult or have many of them been moved out to other hospitals or is everything under control?

X     Some of them have been transferred to other hospitals and we are trying to cope.

POM     Are you a student nurse?

X     Yes.

POM     How many hours a day are you working now?

X     Eight hours, normal hours.

POM     Eight to nine hours a day. That's a long day. Do you feel under a lot of stress?

X     Yes.

POM     I don't know your name and I won't ask you because your voice will only be heard in Britain and in the US so if you don't want to give me your name it's fine, but do you think the nurses are right or do you think that nurses have a duty no matter what happens to be there for patients?

X     But they are right, they have to fight for their rights.

POM     They have to fight for their rights. So you would be on the side of the nurses?

X     Yes.

POM     How many of the student nurses feel the same way?

X     I don't know others, but I think they are right.

POM     OK. Thank you very much. What happened to this little baby. Head wound? An abscess. You're a student nurse too? Do you find it difficult working under these conditions? Yes, no, maybe? You don't want to talk? OK, that's all right.

     (Then chatting to one of the children).

     What is wrong with Rustus, are you sick? Your throat? Are you hurting a lot?

X     Yes.

POM     Do you get pains? How long have you been here? Do you know when you are going home? Do you want to give a message to somebody? Your Mummy & Daddy? You send a message to your Mummy & Daddy.  Is this a friend? Are you going to say something?  Give us your story. And you're from the Transkei.

X     Transkei and Soweto.

POM     How long have you been in hospital? A week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks, six weeks, seven weeks, eight weeks, nine weeks, ten weeks? Ten weeks and we're still counting.

     A very funny experience. Here comes a soldier. Let's see if he will talk. Excuse me a moment. I think you're with the SANDF, are you? No With whom?

X     I'm security.

POM     What have you seen happening?

X     I don't know nothing because I was off, I was at home.

POM     Do you know, are the nurses talking to anybody or is anybody talking to the nurses?

X     I don't know nothing.

POM     Do you think the nurses are right to go out and strike?

X     I start to work today from three weeks back.

POM     But do you think the nurses are right to go out on strike or that they should stay with the patients?

X     I don't know nothing.

POM     That's the typical response. I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing. Most patients have been taken out of the wards we're passing now, they are closed. Just check this one out. Locked, empty. All empty beds. A lot of patients have been moved out. That's one thing that's pretty obvious. The second thing that is pretty obvious is that there's no real sense of crisis.

PAT     What do you mean there's nobody here?

POM     No patients, only medical nurses who have to work, believe it or not, all of 40 hours a week and they are getting pissed off that they had to work 40 hours a week. So far we've met more people who are visitors than patients. Most of the patients that I have seen were male patients, for I suppose obvious reasons, and all of them - that's where the matron is. What a hammer-jacker she is. They are all in for either car accidents - these are patients?

X     What I can say is we do feel secure.

POM     Are you a patient?

X     Yes I am a patient.

POM     You're all patients?

X     Otherwise there is nothing wrong. We do get adequate treatment, everything we want we get it.

POM     Everything you want. Now has there been a difference since the SANDF came in, with the army? Are you seeing them? No?

X     There's nothing wrong with them.

POM     So you feel OK?

X     Yes.

POM     So when you watch television and see all these stories?

X     We don't watch television at the moment because we are here in the hospital.

POM     Do you think that they are exaggerating what's going on, on television? You don't know? Hospital is too big.  OK, thank you.  All the Casspirs, what do they follow? BM, BKM 910M, a fine looking vehicle.

PAT     Did you get anybody to talk to?

POM     Oh yes, lots, about 15, 20, 30. What do you think I am a dummy? Let's stop it right there.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.