Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba says leaders can do more to prevent hospitals from becoming overburdened.
She spoke virtually with acclaimed Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on Thursday night to “put the record straight” after videos of her admonishing Zimbabwean patients being treated at Limpopo health facilities came to light.
Chin’ono asked the MEC if she accepted that leaders had failed concerning ensuring the stability of the South African health system.
Chin’ono’s conversation with Ramathuba follows two weeks of back and forth between the MEC, the media, and the Zimbabwean embassy over a video in which Ramathuba is heard telling a Zimbabwean patient at Bela Bela Hospital that immigrants are a strain on Limpopo’s health system.
On Wednesday, a second video of the MEC admonishing a Zimbabwean patient came to light, reigniting the conversation. In the second video, Ramathuba said she would be billing President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe for the patient’s maternity care.
Ramathuba has come under fire for her sentiments, with many saying her actions smacked of xenophobia and that she should not have taken her ire out on patients.
Earlier, the MEC told News24 that everyone in the country had the right to proper healthcare, even undocumented immigrants.
Since the first Ramathuba video went viral two weeks ago, Operation Dudula members have stationed themselves at various public hospitals in Gauteng, preventing immigrants from accessing healthcare. Operation Dudula has been widely criticised for promoting xenophobic sentiments and vigilantism.
Ramathuba’s Thursday night conversation with Chin’ono had more than 8 100 listeners, most of them from Zimbabwe.
When it came time for the Q&A session, Zimbabwean listeners took turns thanking her for helping immigrants and bringing the plight of Zimbabweans to the fore.
One listener commented that the elephant in the room was the poor leadership of Mnangagwa, who in 2020, elected a soldier – Constantino Chiwenga – as Zimbabwe’s health minister.
Ramathuba acknowledged that as her jurisdiction shared a border with Zimbabwe, the immigrants received at Limpopo public hospitals were mostly Zimbabwean. However, she said her ire was not directed at Zimbabweans or Mnangagwa personally. She said she had mentioned Mnangagwa in the second video as he was the president of Zimbabwe.
“The failure of our governments to deal with the border crisis is resulting in the working classes fighting against each other. We are creating a situation where there is a divide between foreigners and South Africans. We who created this must do something about it.”
Chin’ono said the collapse of the Zimbabwean healthcare system led to an average of 2 500 women dying in childbirth every year.
Ramathuba said she viewed pregnancy as a medical emergency and could understand why women would want to give birth in South Africa. Her issue, she said, was with undocumented immigrants who had elective surgery at hospitals. She said the Zimbabwean patient in the first video had already undergone elective surgery, had been discharged, and was waiting for transport when she spoke to her.
The MEC said only 14% of the country had access to private healthcare while the rest relied on public healthcare.
In Limpopo, 91% of the 5.7 million people relied on public health, she said.
Public hospitals classify patients in terms of what they can afford. Patients who cannot afford healthcare need to provide an affidavit or proof that they receive grants to be exempted from paying.
However, it was found that undocumented immigrants would not go to the police for an affidavit as they feared deportation.
The result, she said, was that R450 million of the R500 million owed to hospitals by patients in Limpopo cannot be reimbursed. Ramathuba said since her tenure she has had to ask Treasury to write off R1bn in monies owed.
“We need Treasury to wipe the R450 million debt off the books but they want proof that the patients [who they cannot trace} cannot pay for the service.” – News24