The National Council of Provinces’ joint delegation of the select committees visited Mossel Bay Provincial Hospital to assess its readiness for the National Health Insurance (NHI) roll-out. The delegation was impressed that the hospital has achieved the ideal hospital status.

The Select Committees on Health and Social Services, and Education, Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture have visited the Garden Route District Municipality to assess progress made on commitments made by various government departments during the National Council of Provinces’ (NCOP’s) Taking Parliament to the People programme, which was held in Oudtshoorn in 2015.

The Garden Route District Municipality incorporates Bitou, George, Hossequa, Kannaland, Knysna, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn municipalities. The visit takes place in the context of the NCOP’s Oversight Week programme. Before the commencement of the programme, the departments and local entities presented progress reports on service delivery regarding the commitments they made in 2015.

Initially, there was an intent to build a new NHI hospital, but the government has since resolved to revamp this facility to be in line with the objective of the NHI of giving South Africans access to universal health care.

Briefing the delegation, the Nursing Manager of the Mossel Bay Hospital, Ms Jabulisile Mahlangu, told the delegation that an amount of R 42 million has thus far been committed to this hospital and renovations are currently underway. “This fund is being utilised to deal with the backlog of maintenance, to refurbish the hospital and to upgrade it to meet the requirements of the NHI,” she said.

When asked by the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Health and Social Services, Ms Maurencia Gillion, about the time frames for the NHI project, Ms Mahlangu replied that the project is earmarked to be finished in two years. “If the current rate of workmanship is maintained, this target will be met,” she added.

According to the NCOP’s last visit to the hospital in 2005, there was a challenge of the shortage of medicines. How is the hospital dealing with that? asked a member of the delegation, Mr Mbulelo Bara, saying that “we know that this is not a problem that is unique to you, it’s in fact a national problem”.

The Chief Director of the District Health System, Mr Ramphelane Morewane, told the delegation that there is no need for medical facilities to run out of stock because there is a Stock Visibility Systems that “through the click of the button, tells you what stock each medical facility has at its disposal and what is running short of”.

A shelter for victims of gender-based violence in Mossel Bay, Creating Effective Families, was also visited by the delegation. Its Director, Ms Karin Gildenhuys, pleaded for more support of such initiatives. And that an alternative way of funding such facilities is needed. “How government subsidises the NGOs needs to be relooked. We cannot always be given funding for transport or rentals. We need funds to pay social workers and to ensure that they are properly paid,” she said.

Ms Karin Gildenhuys told the delegation that Creating Effective Families was also visited by the NCOP in 2005. He said: “We even went to Parliament, but nothing has happened ever since. Something needs to change. We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.” Furthermore, Ms Gildenhuys said currently they don’t need a policy developer for gender-based violence, they need more social workers.

Ms Gillion underlined the fact that the committees were there to follow up on commitments made in 2005 and they were not immune to the challenges that such shelters are faced with. “Our presence here shows how serious we take the issue of gender-based violence. And we are very serious about helping NGOs involved in this sector,” she stressed.

The issue of the shortage of social workers in such facilities has been raised repeatedly and is something “we will try to see if we cannot recall retired social workers to come an assist. Or establish a data base of social workers in the country to address shortages where they are most needed.”

Thereafter, the committees went to Isalathiso Primary School in Mossel Bay to see if progress was made regarding the rate of absenteeism, learners’ ill-discipline, break-ins and non-acceptance of its learners in schools of skills that were reported during the NCOP’s visit to the school in 2005.

On why the learners of the school not admitted to schools of skills, the Principal of the School, Ms Betty Fipaza, attributed that to the fact that Mossel Bay does not have its own school of skills. “We rely on the school in George and it has a long waiting list of candidates, that is the reason.”

To deal with teacher’s absenteeism, the principal currently has a quarterly assessment of absenteeism with her staff. “This has reduced absenteeism at the school dramatically.”

Committing of the absence of school of skills in Mossel Bay, the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Education and Recreation, Mr Elleck Nchabeleng, said “it is unacceptable to expect students to travel 50 km to school. There is a need for Mossel Bay to have its own facility. The province must look at the matter urgently.”

Mr Nchabeleng maintained that the province should live up to its commitment to “utilise education to turn students into responsible citizens. The establishment of the school of skills in Mossel Bay would be a positive step towards achieving this ideal”.

The delegation was not meant to visit Hillcrest High in Mossel Bay, but the recent incident of a student who was murdered by another student on its premises prompted their visit to the school. Hillcrest, which provides tuition in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English has been taunted as the epitome of social cohesion.

However, the members of the delegation were disheartened by the fact that a school of such stature has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Ms Gillion said: “Schools are one of the vehicles to build social cohesion. The stabbing of the student on the school premises is what brought us here today. That incident has left a bitter taste in our mouths.”

She added: “We are here to listen to what happened and to see how we can contribute in keeping alive its dream of being a model of the concept of integrated schools in our country.”

Mr Nchabeleng reiterated that what happened “was very painful, and even more so to the parents of the learner who passed away. We send our kids to school to learn and to leave the school to serve their communities, not to die on school premises. There are not enough words to express our sadness about what happened to the parents and to the school management. We are here today to ensure that such incidents never happen again, and the culture of learning and teaching resumes accordingly. Not all is lost, we must ensure that the school continues to serve its purpose as a beacon of social cohesion, and the district and provincial government should play their part in this regard.” 

By Abel Mputing

24 October 2019