Being threatened with guns, having their belongings taken and their ambulances pelted with stones – these are some of the experiences Western Cape emergency medical service (EMS) workers endure to help those in need.
And while police help to escort them where they can, criminals are taking advantage of these “soft targets” in areas generally rife with crime.
Arming EMS workers with weapons or self-defence lessons is also not an option, according to the provincial health department.
On Wednesday workers will take to the streets of Philippi with residents and other public servants to demand that the attacks stop at once.
Hotspots include Site C in Khayelitsha, Tafelsig, Philippi, Brown’s Farm, Nyanga, New Crossroads, Gugulethu, Manenberg and Hanover Park.
Threatened for helping victims of crime
In an interview on Tuesday, EMS manager Phumzile Papu told News24 the march was not against these communities but against “thugs and criminal elements” who residents sometimes knew.
In some instances staff were assaulted or threatened for providing medical care to victims of crime.
An ambulance crew member was assaulted by five people in Dunoon in January. In February, a team was waiting for a police escort in Philippi when two men threatened them with a gun. They were able to drive away.
A female staff member in Nyanga was held up by four people inside an ambulance in May. She was robbed but residents managed to chase the criminals away.
Police escorts are compulsory for call-outs to hotspots after dark. Staff can also use their prerogative to leave an area and have been warned to be vigilant at all times.
In cases where patients need treatment for gunshot wounds, police needed to escort ambulances to health facilities.
A group recently chased an ambulance that was transporting a gunshot victim to hospital in Hanover Park and shot at it. The crew managed to get away.
Papu said they shared their statistics with police but also understood police were under-resourced and trying to fight other crimes.
“We now have to wait for up to four hours for police to escort us, we don’t know how many patients have died waiting for us.”
The department was investigating a complaint that a victim of a violent altercation may have died due to the delayed arrival of an ambulance in Paarl last Friday. Papu did not have further details at this stage.
He said there had been calls for the department to give its workers bulletproof vests or weapons.
“One of the reasons we have not been shot at it is because they know we are soft targets. We are not carrying weapons,” he argued.
‘Can’t fight against guns and knives’
“I can tell you now, if the thugs and gangsters know we have vests, we will be robbed for the very same vests.”
He did not want to teach his staff self-defence.
“We can’t fight against people with guns and knives.”
Instead the department was in talks with the metro police to see if they could assist with escorts.
They were also going to ask for assistance from neighbourhood watch groups.
“They have radios. These thugs do not rob us when people are around. Residents have agreed to wake up their neighbours and go protect the scene.”
Reporting by Jenna Etheridge[Source: News24]