Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba has denied running down the health department and protecting officials who allegedly rigged the outcomes of job interviews, saying National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu’s) claims were part of a campaign to get her fired.
Ramathuba’s departmental spokesperson, Neil Shikwambana, dismissed the union’s demands as nothing but “flimsy tantrums”. Nehawu held a night vigil at Premier Stan Mathabatha’s offices on Thursday night, calling on him to get rid of Ramathuba.
They also accused Ramathuba of hiring young hospital managers who undermined key staff members, failing to fill funded vacancies and turning a blind eye to officials who rigged the outcomes of job interviews.
“We are quite disheartened by the Nehawu tantrums towards the Limpopo Department of Health because we have actually lost count as to how many times Nehawu has called for the MEC to be removed. In fact, whenever there are issues that Nehawu is supposed to raise, instead of raising them, the first thing they say is that the MEC must go.
“This is not constructive at all. It points to a union that is being hijacked by people who want to achieve their nefarious intents. The reasons that they are bringing as the argument for the removal of the MEC are quite flimsy and based on fabrications,” said Shikwambana.
He said the points on which Nehawu based their protest were baseless.
“They claim that the MEC did not protect their shop stewards from being suspended, but those people who were suspended attempted to shut down Pietersburg Provincial Hospital, and they disrupted services at a public health facility because they were aggrieved by certain things.
“That is not the way of doing things. Shop stewards should know better. There are ways in which you can raise issues without closing a healthcare facility. If you close down a hospital, you are disrupting the value chain of public healthcare service in the entire hospital. These are the kind of hospitals used by people who have no option, the poorest of the poor,” he said.
Shikwambana further refuted allegations that Ramathuba allowed the department’s managers and directors to underspend money meant to improve healthcare across Limpopo.
“We don’t understand where they pick these lies because records are very clear; they can even verify this with the Treasury that the Limpopo Department of Health is one of the best-spending departments in the country when it comes to issues of grant-spending.
“For instance, in the previous financial year we managed to spend 98.9% of the entire grant, so what do they mean when they say the department is understanding? Nehawu also speaks about what they call juniorisation of management. The public service legislation does not automatically qualify a person who has stayed longest in the system for promotion or senior positions,” he added.
According to Shikwambana, public service regulations require any department to employ qualified, competent and experienced managers.
“If there was something Nehawu was supposed to question, it was supposed to be the competence of these people and their relevant experience. Nehawu is not contesting that but they are actually shifting goalposts and we don’t understand how a union of Nehawu’s pedigree can fail to understand these basic things.
“Nehawu is also making a claim that there is a huge vacancy rate that the MEC is doing nothing about. This cannot be further from the truth because if you look at the pattern in the department, even during Covid-19, where all focus was on dealing with the pandemic, the department has been bringing employees into the sector.
“Although it was on a temporary basis at the time, post-Covid 19, the department has brought in new employees. In the previous financial year, we have managed to bring over 500 employees into the fold of the department of health as allowed by the provincial treasury as they are the ones who control our compensation of employees,” Shikwambana said.
He denied claims that Ramathuba was running down the department.
“The health ombudsman has also pointed to the fact that the health MEC in Limpopo and the department of health in Limpopo are among the best-performing MECs and provincial departments in the entire country, respectively. We don’t understand where Nehawu picks all these lies that they want to utilise to remove the MEC,” said Shikwambana.
On Thursday, Nehawu members staged a vigil at Mathabatha’s offices ahead of a march calling for Ramathuba’s head. The union descended on the premier’s office in downtown Polokwane after Ramathuba successfully interdicted them against any protests at her offices or any branch of the provincial health department, including hospitals.
Limpopo provincial government spokesperson, Ndhave Ramukuela, said they were not informed about the night vigil but relied on law enforcement to manage the situation.
Nehawu provincial secretary Moses Maubane did not respond to a request for comment on Ramathuba’s assertions.