| PORT ELIZABETH

Protesters burn down new hospital wing

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They accuse construction company of hiring people from outside the area

Photo of sign in front of hospital wing under construction
Dora Nginza Hospital’s new emergency wing, which is still under construction, was burnt last night. Photo: Joseph Chirume
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A section of the Dora Nginza Hospital in Zwide, Eastern Cape, was severely damaged by fire late yesterday when protesting residents torched it. They are angry that a construction project at the facility is employing people from outside the area.

The burnt section, which is still under construction, is earmarked to house the hospital’s emergency wing.

A security guard who works at the hospital said: “It all happened so fast. The protesters had been singing and dancing peacefully all these days. Some of them sneaked [in] unnoticed and set fire on the building. We tried to douse the fire on our own but our efforts were dashed by the heavy wind that was blowing against us. We were then helped by the firefighters. They also struggled to extinguish the blaze because of the wind.”

Unemployed residents of Zwide and New Brighton have for the past week cordoned off the construction site demanding that Transtruct, the company building the structure, employ them.

A resident of a nearby street, who himself is unemployed but was not part of the protest, said: “It was not a big group that did this. In fact at first I thought they were dispersing for the day since it was around 5pm. But we were shocked to see the fire coming out of the place. While I don’t support the burning and destruction of important infrastructure during protests, the officials should also try to engage peacefully with the communities. This protest is valid. It is a government requirement with all projects that unskilled jobs are given to local people. Here we have people from as far as Colchester, Motherwell, Uitenhage. They should just employ the local guys if they want peace here.”

Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge said: “Our initial investigation shows the protesters somehow went onto the closed site and set fire to wooden building material and equipment used during construction.”

“We are still investigating and have so far made no arrests,” he added.

Siyanda Manana, spokesperson for the provincial health department, said in a statement that communities should refrain from destroying clinics and hospitals as they play a pivotal role in everybody’s life.

He said: “What these community members do not seem to realise is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. This centre is being built to improve the health services provided to the community, but the more this project is delayed, the longer it will be until we provide better services. Their actions are only hurting themselves.”

Manana could not give the cost of the damage nor the cost of the entire project including the sections that were not affected.

The section was closed off today with only the police and investigators allowed in. 

We tried to get comment from Transtruct but the company’s phone was not answered.

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