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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 6, No. 18, 3 October 2007

In this Issue:


Red Alert

For a sustainable, affordable and accessible public health system!! Celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The month of October marks the beginning of the SACP’s Red October Campaign. For the past eight years we have taken up a number of campaigns including Financial Sector Transformation, the Campaign for the defence of the more vulnerable workers, the Land and Agrarian reform campaign, the Campaigns on food and social security, fighting hunger and poverty, and the Public Transport Campaign.

These campaigns have scored a number of victories and have assisted us in mobilising a broad front of organisations in our communities to tackle challenges experienced in these various sectors. As part of our Red October Campaign this year, the Central Committee has resolved that we convene Red Forums in our communities to report back on the successes of our campaigns and report back on the outcomes of our 12th National Congress.

Some prophets of doom and anti-SACP elements have taken it upon themselves to use various platforms to discredit the good work already done on these fronts. For these reasons we shall use our Red October Campaign to fully explain and engage our communities and the organised working class on the nature, character and reasons for the current offensive against the SACP. It is only in this way that we shall decisively defeat these attempts, through direct engagement with overwhelming majority of our people, the workers and the poor.

Accordingly, all our campaigns have also been a continuation of the SACP’s ‘HHH’ campaign focusing on Housing, Hunger and Health Care, first launched in the early 1990s under the leadership of the then General Secretary of the SACP, Cde Chris Hani.

This year, the Central Committee has resolved that we should focus the Red October Campaign on our public health system. On Saturday, 6th October, we will have a national launch of this campaign with a Red Forum in the North West Province, Lonmin, Western Platinum Stadium, just outside Rustenburg.

Earlier this year, the SACP was in the forefront in support of public sector workers, not least health-care workers, in their protracted strike that highlighted wage demands, but also the often impossible conditions under which many of our public sector workers are compelled to work.

The SACP has received reports from many of our members who are active in various capacities in the health system, especially the public health system. While we are spending R25-billion on the Gautrain, and R9-billion on 2010 stadia, many of our hospitals, especially those serving the workers and the poor, do not have even the minimum health-care infrastructure budgets that were theoretically allocated to them for this budgetary year.

Only this week The Star ran a front page story about new-born babies who sleep in cardboard boxes due to lack of facilities at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. This horror in one of the major national hospitals is a typical reflection of the type of care received in public health care facilities in this country.

We have also received reports of massive staff shortages in many public hospitals, and many of our rural clinics are simply not functional. We are told that in some instances, patients have to walk out of health care facilities to procure for themselves aspirins, as they are not available in hospitals.

Due to staff shortages, most of the patients who are admitted to casualty wards do not get treatment as they are not classified as emergencies, especially after hours. This has compromised the quality of the treatment that the workers and the poor receive.

Statistics suggest to us that by 2005, in the Eastern Cape there were only 14 177 beds available in public hospitals, 4 359 in the Free State, 15 606 in Gauteng, 25 621 in KwaZulu-Natal, 9 149 in Limpopo, 921 in the Northern Cape, 5 540 in the North West and 9 817 in the Western Cape. Taken at face value, and on aggregate, this points to a very serious crisis indeed in our public health system.

From 2002 the life expectancy of females in South Africa has declined from 57.2 years to 51.6 years. If this pattern continues without any interruption, it means that the life expectancy of female South Africans will be 43 by 2014, a year government has targeted as the year by which we should halved unemployment and poverty.

The constant decline of South Africans life expectancy and an alarming increase in infant mortality ratio happens in the face of the growing inequalities between the rich and the poor and slow attempts and targets to improve the living conditions of the people.

Whilst most of these problems have been inherited from the apartheid regime, there is no doubt that our democratic government could have addressed them better were it not for the excessively contractionary and contradictory macro-economic policies followed since 1996. Whilst we are told that GEAR has enabled us to manage our finances better and we now have a budget surplus, the problem is that the same GEAR has instructed us to cut health budgets and capacity and infrastructure building which is now even compromising our capacity to spend the moneys we have. It is the cumulative impact of this macro-economic policy inhibiting us from building an equitable, accessible and affordable health system.  Instead of increased focus on building public health capacity we seem to be hesitatingly seeking to introduce an element of private health care in our own public hospitals, without a clear strategy to tackle the fundamentals of building a decent public health system.

Another dimension of the health crisis in our country is the yawning gap between the public and private health systems, the former catering for predominantly the black majority and the latter for whites and a layer of a black elite. In many ways the colonialism of a special type health inequalities are daily being reproduced despite some advances made by government in making health care accessible and affordable for the majority of our people.

In the course of our campaign we will also seek to positively engage with the broad movement against the HIV/AIDS pandemic and interact with as wide a range of activists as possible to deepen the fight against this pandemic. In fact, we cannot win the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic outside of, and in isolation from, the struggle to build and accessible and affordable public health system. This is the role and responsibility of the SACP to play a vanguard role in locating the issue based struggles on HIV/AIDS within the wider struggles for an affordable public health system.

Another dimension of our 2007 Red October campaign will be to effectively interface with, and mobilise the thousands of community health care givers, the majority of whom are women both in the urban and rural areas. This layer of health care givers can be mobilised into a formidable motive force for the transformation of our public and community health care.

Another critical component of our campaign will be engagement and joint activities with the progressive trade unions organising in the health sector. There can be no transformation of our public health system without the organised working class being at the head of this effort.

The challenge of building a healthy nation includes reaching out to our youth on issues of healthy lifestyles, including taking forward a campaign against the uses and abuse of drugs and various intoxicating substances including alcohol, as well as the campaign against smoking.

The struggle for an efficient, affordable and effective health care system should not be divorced from the struggle for the provision of other basic services such as water, education, proper sanitation, housing, electricity and sustainable and decent jobs for the majority of our people.

Our structures will throughout this month and beyond visit hospitals and community clinics in the various localities to inspect their conditions and interact with the communities, workers and community health care givers to further understand their challenges. At the end of this campaign, we hope to be able to consolidate a register of needs for our public health care system and, in partnership with government and various stakeholders, work towards achieving meaningful solutions.

The SACP invites our communities, workers, community health care workers, to join us as we visit hospitals and community clinics to assess the state of these institutions, hold community and workers’ red forums. To this end we demand:

  • Well-resourced public hospitals with basic medication and other facilities.
  • Functioning community health clinics with staff and medication.
  • Accelerated implementation of government’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS programmes.
  • Improvement of the wages, conditions of service of all health workers, including community health workers

We will furthermore seek to create structures to strengthen people’s participation in the transformation of our public health system and its institutions. This would include assessing the effectiveness of, amongst others, hospital boards and clinic committees in order to ensure that our communities, led by alliance structures of the ground, do indeed participate in these institutions as required by the National Health Act.

We will conclude the activities of our Red October Campaign with a huge rally in Gauteng which will also be part of the international celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. The SACP will also form part of the main international rally to commemorate this 90th anniversary to be held in Moscow early in November. The rest of the international communist movement will converge in Moscow for these celebrations.

These celebrations were to be preceded by an International Meeting of Communist Parties and Worker’s Parties, of which we have the pleasure of being part of the working group organising this meeting, in Minsk, Belarus. Sadly, the government of Belarus has now banned the activities of the Communist Party for the next six months in what is a clearly calculated anti-communist ploy to prevent this historic meeting being held in that country.

This is reminiscent of an emerging right wing tendency across Europe that has resorted to old tactics of literally banning the operations of communist parties in various countries that previously were ruled by communist parties. The SACP will work with its international allies to defeat this anti-communist sentiment wherever it is found, both inside our own country and globally.

Our revolution is on trial, and the answer to this is to build working class hegemony in all key sites of power in society, including in the health system.

Communists Cadres to the Front! Build community health forums in your locality for a healthy nation!