Nurses, patients in some Cape Town clinics live in fear of crime everyday

    Patients and nursing staff at the Nyanga Community Day Clinic and other facilities in the Cape Town township live in fear of crime. Nyanga is known as one of the most dangerous townships in the country. 

    The most recent crime statistics paint a picture of a South African Police Service (SAPS) that’s losing the battle against crime in the Western Cape. A nurse, who has been working at the clinic since 2019, spoke with Health-e news, on the condition of anonymity. She says the level of crime is unbearable and makes it hard for health workers to do their work. 

    “We don’t feel safe at all as nurses. Sometimes you don’t even know if the person you’re helping is a patient really, or a criminal. Late last year, an armed robber came in here pretending to be someone seeking help. He robbed a nurse of her bag and cellphone and ran away.

    “We are scared everyday,” the nurse says. 

    Communities under siege 

    Violent crime is a major issue in the Western Cape. According to crime statistics released by SAPS in February, murders reported in the province increased from 1,198 in March 2023 to 1,301 in March 2024. Attempted murder went from 955 to 1,314. 

    Amanda Deliwe has lived in Nyanga east for over ten years and frequents the Nyanga Day Clinic. She says patients are the most vulnerable to crime. The clinic has no shelter for them to wait for medical care. Due to the limited space in the waiting room inside, patients are forced to wait on the side of the street outside the facility. 

    Health-e News visited the clinic which is situated close to the taxi rank. On that day scores of patients were seen standing in the cold rain, at the side of the main road outside of the clinic’s fenced yard. 

    “We’re at the mercy of criminals here. We get here very early in the morning, sometimes while it is dark, to seek help and they take advantage. It’s easy to get robbed,” says Deliwe while waiting in the queue outside, with her daughter in hand. 

    “I have also been a victim. Last year I was robbed of my phone and other belongings while standing here,” she says. 

    Ongoing problem 

    In 2021, community health workers called for some clinics to be closed because of the high levels of crime in some Cape Town clinic facilities. In October last year, the Matthew Goniwe Clinic in Makhaza, in Khayelitsha was robbed by gun carrying criminals. In addition to vandalising the facility, they took computers and other equipment. 

    Facility manager, at the Masincedane Clinic, in KTC also in Nyanga, Tshilidzi Mukhuthu says crime has them living in fear everyday. 

    “It is uncontrollable and out of our hands. Last year we were even forced to close the clinic for almost the whole week because of taxi violence. Criminals also took advantage of the situation. We feared for ourselves and patients. Shootings and robberies are not unusual. The number of security officers has recently increased, but I am not sure it’s going to help. We are living in fear, because patients are also not safe,” says Mukhuthu.

    Ward councillor in Nyanga, Suzanne Zumana says they’re doing all they can to fight crime. But the fact that criminals are freely owning firearms is undoing their efforts.

    “Nyanga is a crime hotspot. Blood is spilled on a daily basis. I have recently asked the police for more visibility inside the community. I have also asked the municipality to install high mask lights, as an effort to fight the crime,” says Zumana. 

    Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) district organiser and the sector chairperson for people living with HIV, Neliswa Nkwali, says patient care is being compromised.

     “Crime hinders the right to access healthcare for the sick, and the elderly and frail. We feel like the government in the Western Cape is not doing enough to combat crime. The worst affected healthcare facilities are in Nyanga and Philippi. Either the criminals rob nurses inside the clinic or hijack their cars. Even in Khayelitsha, there have been incidents of clinics and  nurses being robbed.” 

    Western Cape Department of Health communications officer, Monique Johnstone says fighting crime needs a community effort. 

    “The police, communities, neighbourhood watch, community safety, other government bodies, and the Western Cape Government Health and Wellness must work together to protect our staff and patients accessing care. 

    “Some of the areas where our staff provide critical and much-needed healthcare services are not safe, but the communities we serve are vulnerable and access to healthcare services is our main priority. The Department has partnered with the South African Police Service to escort our staff to higher-risk areas such as Crossroads and Inzame Zabantu Community Day Centres safely and out of the area once the facility is closed each day.” 

    Johnstone says it is understandable that people do sometimes feel concerned about their safety. 

    “While we continue to review our security it is important to stress that a health facility is a place of healing and should not be seen as an opportunity for criminality. We need our communities to work with us in spreading this message.”  – Health-e News

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