*Army deployed to hospitals as striking workers are accused of blocking entrances, assaulting colleagues and disrupting surgery
Source: DTN News - - This article compiled by Roger Smith from reliable sources
(NSI News Source Info) TORONTO, Canada - August 24, 2010: A public sector strike has bitterly divided South Africa as protesting workers are accused of deliberately endangering the lives of hospital patients.
The crippling stoppage, now in its sixth day, has seen the army deployed to hospitals and the government health minister forced to return to his previous job as a doctor.
Demonstrating workers have been condemned for allegedly blocking hospital entrances, assaulting colleagues who want to work and even disrupting surgery in operating theatres.
Violence erupted again today when police fired teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons and arrested 67 public servants in Gauteng and Northern Cape provinces. There were several injuries.
The stoppage is led by a coalition of more than a dozen unions who represent 1.3 million state employees including teachers, police, nurses, customs officials and office workers. Many continue to defy a court order issued at the weekend for those employed in essential services to return to work.
The health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, who last worked as a doctor 16 years ago, stitched up the wounds of at least a dozen stab victims during a night shift at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto on Friday.
He spoke out angrily against strikers for invading a sterilised area of the hospital to toyi-toyi (an apartheid-era protest dance) and, at another hospital, for interfering with an operation on an anaesthetised patient.
South Africa's security forces have deployed outside hospitals as unions defy a court order to keep essential services open during their strike.
Police have fired rubber bullets at striking health workers, injuring several protesters in Durban. The army has sent medical teams to 37 hospitals around the country to keep emergency health services open.
Some one million civil servants began their strike on Wednesday, in a dispute over pay.
The government on Saturday obtained an injunction against the strike, which the unions immediately condemned.
The injunction forbids strikers from blockading state buildings and instructs those providing essential services to return to work.
Reports in Johannesburg says early indications are that the order has had at best a limited impact.
Those shot outside Durban's Addington Hospital were reportedly blockading the staff entrance.
Nurse Buhle Ntsele, who was bleeding from the thigh after being shot, said their protest had been peaceful.
"People who are working have betrayed us. We need to deal with them," the South African Press Agency (Sapa) reports.
Sapa says that some nurses were on duty at the hospital's casualty unit, while there was a heavy police presence outside.
The situation is reportedly similar in hospitals in Johannesburg, with a police and soldiers monitoring protesters at the gates and army medics working inside.
Mugwena Maluleke, a spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), told the media over the weekend that union members would not be advised to return to work.
"We have to highlight our plight. We have told our members, there must be no obstruction of entrances and no intimidation," he told Sapa.
The health ministry has asked for volunteers to help clean hospitals and cook food for patients.
As the strike enters its sixth day, there are signs that the dispute may escalate.
At least one extra teachers' union is expected to join the strike from Monday, while local government workers say they will join the action out of solidarity on Thursday.
The government has offered a 7% pay rise. Unions affiliated to Cosatu are demanding an increase of 8.6%.
The government says it cannot afford to deliver wage increases that amount to twice the rate of inflation.
On Friday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said hospital workers who interrupted vital medical care and forced colleagues to join the strike are carrying out actions tantamount to murder.
President Jacob Zuma has defended the unions' right to strike but also urged for them to end violence and intimidation.
*This article is being posted from Toronto, Canada By DTN News ~ Defense-Technology News, contact: email@example.com