South Africa: Health Official Slammed For Verbal Attack on Zimbabwean Patient

Cape Town — In a viral video, Limpopo province Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba told a migrant patient that illegal Zimbabweans were putting a strain on the provincial healthcare system when informed the patient she was addressing was Shona speaking. “You know that [President Emmerson] Mnangagwa doesn’t give me money to operate you guys… You’re killing my health system,” Ramathuba told the Zimbabwean woman.

In a statement, the Health Department wrote: “We acknowledge that the public healthcare system is struggling in some areas to meet the healthcare needs of the citizens and reduce the backlogs due to unpredictably high number of undocumented migrants from neighbouring countries seeking healthcare service in the country, other than the asylum-seekers and refugees.”

Ramathuba ‘s comments sparked controversy, with Zanu-PF in South Africa lambasting her. Further, former Zimbabwean deputy prime minister, Arthur Mutambara made several points in response to Ramathuba’s comments. “We have a general obligation in Zimbabwe to take care of our people. We have a general obligation in Malawi to take care of our people. In other words, national countries, national economies, national healthcare systems must work so that there’s no influx of people to South Africa looking for jobs, looking for healthcare. We have a general obligation as national leaders to fix our countries and our national healthcare systems,” Mutambara said.

Mutambara went on to directly challenge Ramathuba’s stance by slamming her failure to not put the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) needs before those of South Africa, saying: “The remarks of the MEC of Limpopo are disgraceful because she doesn’t understand that we are all Africans, that SADC – the regional arrangement – is more important than South Africa. She doesn’t understand that these borders – Botswana, Zimababwe – are not our borders. So for her to be speaking eloquently about victimising a patient is disgraceful because we must be putting the region before the country, the African before the South African, the African before the Zimbabwean, so we need more solidarity. We need more consciousness among our leaders and the MEC from Limpopo demonstrated the lack of understanding of pan-Africanism and a lack of understanding of regional solidarity.”

Demands for action in South Africa

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and public service trade union Hospersa called on Ramathuba to apologise for her statements with Nehawu also recommending an overhaul of the provincial health department, News24 reports. Nehawu provincial secretary Moses Maubane said: “We can’t attach the challenges to the people of Zimbabwe. Let’s rather say the system needs to be overhauled. We need to change the system. They [Zimbabweans] do have the right to be taken care of when sick.”

The Progressive Health Forum called for Ramathuba’s dismissal over the comments, eNCA reports. The Forum’s Professor Alex van den Heever said Ramathuba had to face consequences due to her position as a senior government official. “There so many things that are wrong, one is the Hippocratic oath, but she was not in that situation as a doctor and she wasn’t there in a position as a doctor and also in a position to be able to see patients or to even speak to them or to challenge their conduct in any way. She in many respects was a private person when she was standing there before that patient and if I went into a hospital and started speaking to a patient like that, you know I should be arrested on the spot. It’s completely inappropriate,” he said.

According to News24, mismanagement of Limpopo’s healthcare system and a lack of internal controls are to blame for its limited resources. Data from between 2016 and 2021 show an increase of billions relating to medico-legal claims against the health department, most notably those relating to cerebral palsy at birth. Professor Alex van den Heever, chair of social security systems administration and management studies at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance, found that according to the 2020/21 annual report, U.S.$534 million in cerebral palsy claims constituted the U.S.$712 million claims leveled at the department. “That is quite large, and it is liability to watch, and it might be, although unconfirmed, suggestive of negligent practices within the province. It does correlate with maternal mortality ratios as cerebral palsy happens in delivery,” Van den Heever said.

Twitter reacts to Ramathuba

Opposition parties the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the  Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) both called for Ramathuba’s removal from office. The DA wrote in a tweet that Ramathuba was “irresponsible” and that her comments risk the incitement of violence and hatred. The EFF, meanwhile, slammed Ramathuba’s “cruelty” and “posturing” in a tweet of their own.

Reactions on Twitter saw multiple reactions, with some tweets reading:

“Those who feel that Dr Phophi Ramathuba is xenophobic they are free to go and stay in Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Mozambique.” – @MoK081425

“MEC of health in Limpopo Phophi Ramathuba must be fired immediately for attacking sick patients at hospital the ANC hates African people” – @NethonondaBles8

“Dr Phophi Ramathuba did nothing wrong except for being rude. An illegal immigrant can’t be a beneficiary of state-owned resources. Deportation should be the first action, not service provision.” – @Ori_RSA

“So Dr Ramathuba is being attacked for putting South Africans first?.. So foreigners must get treatment first before South Africans? Illegal foreigners?… Am I missing something here?.. So we pay tax and the illegal foreigners get treatment first?” – @T5HIVHASE

“Truth is Ramathuba is just saying what a majority of our neighbours in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are saying, they are tired of us. The solution is fixing Zimbabwe so that our citizens are not treated as lepers next door” – @Mathuthu