Farm conflict: thousands of people could not access medicines

Kate Stegeman and Tariro Washinyira
News
During the farm violence in De Doorns and other parts of the Western Cape over the last few weeks, thousands of public health system users could not get their medicines because health facilities closed down.

The three public health facilities in De Doorns have been closed for the last two weeks. Many poor people in the area have not been able to access antiretrovirals, TB treatment or childhood vaccinations and other chronic disease medicines. The clinic re-opened yesterday. Last week, a clinic in Wolseley was also closed from Tuesday to Thursday. It re-opened on Friday.

Cape Winelands Department of Health Communications Officer Joanne Otto explained that the decision to close the clinics was taken because healthcare workers were intimidated by some protesters. "We were advised by police to close some clinics ... You cant administer health care in an unsafe environment, when it is directed at patients and doctors.” She said that all clinics are now open, fully functional and fully staffed. With regard to the farm violence, Otto explained, "We have had two deaths to date and 55 casualties receiving treatment, with only 4 of those being admitted for longer stays. All have [subsequently] been discharged. The bulk of patients were from Swellendam and Witzenberg area."

Carmen Louw of Women on Farms Project says that her organisation received reports that people living in Ceres and Wolseley were refused medical attention. "Police also refused to take statements from injured community members. Farm workers are therefore not only victimized by farmers, but by the very state organs that must protect and assist them,” she said.

We approached several protesters to ask for comment but by the time of going to print, none were willing to speak on the record. One protester mentioned he had been instructed not to talk to journalists by his leadership structures but said that many protesters mistrust "trigger-happy" police. He was unsure if protesters targeted government healthcare workers.