A VIDEO trended Tuesday of a South African provincial minister raging at the extra burden Zimbabwean migrants – many of them illegal – are imposing on already overstretched healthcare services in Africa’s second biggest economy.
Phophi Constance Ramathuba, a medical doctor and Member of the Limpopo province Executive Committee (MEC), reveals the increasing impatience of South African authorities over the growing financial costs of looking after Zimbabweans escaping a collapsed healthcare system back home.
“You know he (Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa) doesn’t give money me to operate you guys and I am operating you with my limited resources,” says Dr Ramathuba in the video.
A woman is heard responding in a sickly voice saying “thank you so much, I appreciate,” in remarks which only further infuriate Ramathan.
“You are killing my health system,” says the Minister, who is also a member of the ruling ANC party.
“When you guys are sick I hear you just say – let’s cross Limpopo, there is an MEC there who is running a charity department but this is not a charity department.”
Thousands of people from Zimbabwe and Mozambique regularly cross into South Africa for their medical needs because the services are either unaffordable or simply unavailable back home.
For a country that regularly suffers bouts of xenophobic violence, the influx of foreign patients into South African hospitals has always been sure to be an emotive issue among stakeholders.
Earlier this year, South Africa home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi, claimed that over 70 percent of births in hospitals in the Gauteng and Limpopo provinces were foreign.”
In the video clip, Dr Ramathuba said the influx of foreigners, many undocumented, was a huge problem due to limited financial resources.
“I am going to tell you something that is truthful and painful,” she says.
“You know Stats SA goes to count people during census and tell that in Limpopo you have 5,7 million people, and tell me that out of 5,7 million 91 % do not have medical aid.
“They are dependent on the State and only nine percent depend on private doctors.”
She continued; “Now I’m here, instead of using the budget for what it’s meant for I’m operating for what Mnangagwa is supposed to do.
“That is why when my people of Limpopo want health services, they can’t get it and that is angering the community.
“… you are not even registered anyway, you are not counted. You are even illegal and you are abusing me. This is unfair.”
South African politician and medical doctor Phophi Constance Ramathuba
In Gauteng province, a member of the provincial Legislature, suggested that the only solution to the problem would be to bill the embassies of the countries from which those treated come from.
“This is a practical way to deal with the issue of foreign patients overburdening Gauteng hospitals that has recently been highlighted by a video of pregnant women sleeping on the floor at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg,” said Jack Bloom, of the opposition DA party in May.
More than a million Zimbabweans are believed to have crossed the border over the years and settled in South Africa to escape economic challenges back home.
However, as inequalities worsen, the migrants have been targeted in bouts of deadly xenophobic attacks as they are blamed for taking jobs, housing and other opportunities from locals.
Already the South African government has since refused to renew permits for close to 200,000 Zimbabweans which are due to expire at the end of the year.
During a ruling ANC party policy meeting in July, international relations sub-committee chairperson Lindiwe Zulu, who is also social development minister, said “We need other countries to help us deal with the issue of immigration and immigrants.
“We need them to also appreciate that we are also under extreme pressure, because the economy of our country is also not doing very well.”
She added; “When it comes to the issue of Home Affairs, and you were saying maybe we are sending Zimbabweans back to starve, as the African National Congress we believe that all countries need to take responsibility of their citizens.
“First and foremost, we take responsibility of our citizens, we make sure that despite the challenges that we have of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we shouldn’t be having South Africans leaving South Africa with almost nothing.
” … leaving South Africa and going to neighbouring countries to go and look for greener pastures when they aren’t even that much of the greener pastures that we can talk about.”