Sunday World

Looting cripples Gauteng, KZN emergency services

Grieving daughter braves mayhem

- By Somaya Stockenstr­oom

When Bongiwe Sithole’s 54-year-old mother died suddenly on Monday afternoon at her home in Protea, Soweto, she had to call emergency services and have paramedics declare her dead.

But as mayhem swept through Gauteng and Kwazulu-natal this week, the disruption reverberat­ed to many sectors of society, including the health sector and citizens in emergency situations were severely affected.

Emergency units struggled to even get help to those in need.

“My mom died at about 3pm and we called them immediatel­y. We were traumatise­d by the death, as well as the looting and riots, which were at its worst on Monday.

We expected a delay, but at 7pm we became concerned that they still had not arrived,” said Sithole.

She said she braved the situation and drove herself to the nearest fire department near Jabulani Mall, dodging burning tyres to get some assistance. But she was turned away and told they could not assist.

“I called the Emergency Management Services [EMS] number and was told there were 11 other bodies they had to fetch before getting to us. Needless to say, they arrived the next day at 4.30am. Almost 14 hours later. We had to move my mom’s body on the cold floor while we waited,” said Sithole.

She said while she was frustrated at first because she managed to drive through some disturbing scenes in the area, she also understood after hearing that there was a stampede in Meadowland­s.

Gauteng EMS said they had a high volume of distress calls and that the riots, as well as attacks on paramedics, made it difficult for paramedics and vehicles to respond to calls. They had to use their armoured ambulance to respond to calls since Sunday evening to transfer patients and staff.

Khensani Mahlangu of the South African National Blood Services said it had unfortunat­ely suffered multiple incidents of looting and vandalism at multiple donor centres.

“The most highly impacted area by far has been our Kwazulu-natal operations. Some of these operations are still operating but the general approach that we are taking now is one of caution and some donor centres are temporaril­y closed, pending the restoratio­n of calm in the province. We will communicat­e with our stakeholde­rs once we resume full operations.

“Operations continue to function in other provinces and we are still collecting blood from donors,” she said.

Dr Freddy Kgongwana, the acting head of hospital services at the Gauteng health department, said there was increased pressure at several hospitals particular­ly at Helen Joseph, Hillbrow and Edenvale hospitals. He also said oxygen supply was largely affected.

He said the events were concerning as numbers of Covid-19 cases would likely rise because the riots were super-spreader events.

Kwazulu-natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said: “We cannot have the safety and wellbeing of people who are already weak being placed in jeopardy by these unruly elements. Only time will reveal the impact of all of these super-spreader events that have played out in the form of the large crowds who have been looting.”

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