The South African Federation of Trade Unions is enraged at the news of two paramedics being robbed at gunpoint in Alexandra, Johannesburg, today. They had just picked up a patient and had started driving when two armed men confronted them, forced them to stop and took their wallets and cellphones.
Neither the paramedics nor the patient were physically injured, but are understandably very traumatised.
It is a measure of the depths to which society is sinking when even those on life-saving missions are not safe from violent criminals. It would be bad enough if this was an isolated incident, but a similar incident occurred in Cosmos City in September and Western Cape paramedics no longer enter certain suburbs in Cape Town without a police escort as a result of attacks on them.
Yet even this police escort has not deterred some robbers; in August a police officer was shot and wounded while escorting an ambulance in Gugulethu, Cape Town.
These reports reinforce SAFTU’s concerns that criminal gangs are taking control of the streets of poor communities and by targeting paramedics they are putting the lives of the most vulnerable and sick residents in jeopardy.
The workers in emergency services staff are also in fear of their lives every time they go to work. As City of Johannesburg EMS Spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi says: “I can safely confirm that that all 1 500 EMS staff, including fire fighters and paramedics, are very much traumatised. It affects them. You can imagine: They must report for duty tonight and they wonder if they will be attacked.”
These attacks make even more urgent SAFTU’s call for government, police, communities, church organizations and trade unions to unite to mobilize the resources and SAPS personnel to take effective measures – including appointing police reservists to full-time positions in the police – that will make our communities, and all those who live and work in them, safe and secure.
They must be able to enjoy the protection which those in wealthy suburbs can buy for themselves from private security companies.