Ambulance workers demand safety

Emergency medical service personnel need police escorts before responding to calls

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Photo of protesters
Hundreds of emergency medical services (EMS) workers march in Philippi against violence towards them when on duty. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Hundreds of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers and residents of Philippi marched to the Brown’s Farm sports field today. They were protesting against violence they experience from criminals while doing their jobs.

“I am scared to go back to work. I do not know what will happen. I have a four-year-old child at home that needs me,” said Nokuthula Kulati-Kakaza.

Kulati-Kakaza has been driving ambulances for four years and works in the Mitchells Plain and Philippi area. Two weeks ago, she was attacked with a knife while attending to a call in the early hours. She arrived at a place where a man came out and said he was stabbed.

“He said he did not want to go to the hospital and that I should just help him there. While I was trying to explain to him why I have to take him to the hospital, one person came from the back with a knife and I dodged,” said Kulati-Kakaza.

She says the person attempted to stab her three times. Kulati-Kakaza ran to her partner for help.

“Everything happened so fast; a police escort was there and they [the attackers] were not even scared … All they wanted to do is hurt [us]. They only ran when they saw the police get out of the van,” said Kulati-Kakaza.

She has not been to work since the incident and says she is still going to counselling. A suspect was arrested the same night.

Placards at the march read: ‘We have families’ and ‘We can’t save you or help you while we are broken’. EMS workers from the private sector also attended the march. Walking down the streets of Brown’s Farm community, they sang struggle songs.

“We are here today to say enough is enough,” said provincial EMS manager Phumzile Papu.

“The attacks on EMS personnel must stop now. We do not want to wait until one of us dies before we do something. We are being attacked in areas where we are needed the most. It needs to stop,” said Papu.

“I want to say to management and labour, these are not bread and butter problems: we are dealing with life and death and have to work as a team,” said Papu.

Papinki Lebelo (right) and Nathan Boks wear bandages in support of their hurt comrades. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

According to the protesters more than 80 acts of violence have been directed at EMS workers this year alone.

Sanco chairperson in the Philippi area, Bongani Mini, said residents needed to stand up and report culprits to the police.

“It is bad to see ambulance workers being attacked; the very same people that are coming to save people’s lives. These services are for us, the poor people, so we cannot afford to attack the very same people that are coming to help us,” said Mini.

He said in the street behind the sports field, two ambulances were attacked at gunpoint.

Community member Nolundi Magaqa, who stays in the street, said: “In the last two months, we have seen ambulances being robbed in the same street. They robbed them at gunpoint and took their phones and wallets and some of the things they use.”

“We suffer as residents. There are old people that need these services, poor people that do not have their own cars to go to hospital,” said Magaqa.

She said it cost R400 to hire a car to take one to hospital.

Nyanga police commander Brigadier Vuyisile Ncatha said the robbing of EMS workers has put strain on the police. Ambulances wait at the Nyanga police station to be escorted into Philippi.

“This means ambulances will not attend to the scene on time … If an ambulance has to wait at the police station for a van which is out on duty, what happens to those people that are sick and waiting for the ambulance?” asked Ncatha.

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TOPICS:  Crime Health

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