The Premier of the Eastern Cape, the honourable Phumulo Masualle,
The MEC for Health, the honourable Helen Sauls-August
The MEC for Finance and Economic Affairs, the honourable Lubabalo Mabuyane
Dear Premier and Colleagues
You may not be aware that in October 2016 I received a heart transplant in an operation at the private Christiaan Barnaard Hospital after being diagnosed with end stage heart failure. It is quite possible that a birth condition, exacerbated by a viral infection and poor lifestyle, caused my illness. Since then I have tried to take an active interest in heart disease and treatment, especially in children and particularly in poor, rural children in our province. My web site is replete with articles on my journey thus far.
On Friday, I received information, which I believe to be from an impeccable source, that two children had died at Frere Hospital because they could not be transported to the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town for heart surgery due to the ongoing ambulance drivers’ strike in our province. The original information referred to “a number of children” who had died because of the strike, and noted alternative options being explored to get children to Cape Town, including public long distance bus transport and mercy air flights.
I later heard from another source that two children have died in this way. However, I have been unable to confirm the information from any public servant with direct knowledge of the situation. I am aware that a couple of journalists have also made enquiries to officials who have either said they have no knowledge and will have to check next week, or have refused to speak to the journalists and even verbally abused them.
Now, it is quite possible that the information given to me is fake and no children have died in such circumstances. If I am wrong in having spread fake news, I will publicly apologize. I will also follow any reasonable directive of the MEC for Health to undertake voluntary work in a facility of her choosing.
Despite my repeated requests, the MEC for Health as at early Sunday had no confirmation, I assume, from the head of department, from the head of the relevant hospital or the hospital department. Her last communication to me Saturday afternoon was that she was awaiting information from the head of department. I have said to the MEC that the efforts to establish the facts are paltry.
Surely it cannot be that difficult to track deaths in the paediatric wards of our premier government institutions in Buffalo City? Surely this is not the time to resort to mindless bureaucratic and lackadaisical fiddling?
Surely, it is in your government’s interests to determine if it is a hoax and clear the department’s name as quickly as possible, especially given the bad rap your government receives perennially in respect of the unnecessary deaths of babies passing through our health system, and similar service delivery failures?
But, if this information is credible, Premier and your honourable colleagues, we have a far bigger problem. Not only have innocent young children with no axe to grind with anyone, died unnecessarily as a result of the strike, but government officials have been remiss in not bringing this to yourselves and the public immediately, so that urgent steps can be taken to avoid its recurrence.
Each of us, Premier and your colleagues, has an obligation to raise an alert if this information is credible. If we don’t, we are as complicit in the killing of innocents as those who have withdrawn their labour and left communities without life-saving and life-affirming services.
I understand that some public servants are scared of jeopardizing their jobs. As the Rural Health Advocacy Project wrote to Minister Motsoaledi last year, government must support healthcare workers to speak out freely and without fear of being victimized or, at worst of losing their jobs if they voice their frustrations and concerns with the public. But, to be blunt, I have zero respect for any highly qualified and highly-paid medical professional or hospital manager who does not have the courage or the honour to show up or take a stand when children are dying unnecessarily.
Shame on them. And shame on you and I, Premier and your honourable colleagues, if we also stand and watch while these events unfold at leisure.
I write this on Father’s Day. I am not especially one who buys into the commercial perversion of these days. I am immeasurably blessed and honoured to be a father in my own right and to have the love of many, many other younger people who have been a part of my life for many years. I have such great sadness when I consider those parents who lose children, especially in circumstances that could have been avoided
As parents who are so blessed, Premier and colleagues, I appeal to you:
Let us do all we can to get the facts. Let us commit to ensuring that this strike ends soon and that all other impediments to protecting, affirming and healing the life of all our children, all the children of this province, are removed.