Standing up for her rights
When 26-year-old student nurse Atalia Nkosi isn’t thinking about how fed up she is that nurses, and people in the Free State in general, have to put up with empty promises and squabbling, squandering politicians, she’s thinking about stopping her studies.
Atalia sways between these two extremes because life as a healthcare provider in the Free State is unbearable.
‘My mother is a domestic worker back in Frankfort and she’s very proud of me. When I get to home she always wants to wash my nurse’s uniform for me, she’s that proud. That’s why I don’t tell her how hard things are for us as student nurses right now,’ says Atalia, who hadn’t received a cent from a promised stipend at the time of our interview.
Based at the Bongani Hospital in Welkom, which has been the site of strikes and class boycotts by student nurses this winter, because frustrated nurses say they can’t survive, the unpaid money is a serious gripe – it’s the difference between going to be bed hungry or not.
‘One textbook can cost up to R500; how can I afford that?’ she asks. She knows that her fellow nurses arrive for duty or class on an empty stomach. She’s also heard the rumours that some student nurses have resorted to having sex with doctors to get money, or even just a square meal every now and again.
The nurses have also not been properly equipped to do their jobs. Atalia has been turned away repeatedly when she’s asked for her hepatitis B vaccination, and there’s a always the risk of a needle stick injury that would put her at risk of contracting HIV.
Most days the nurses make do – even when it breaks their hearts. Earlier this year, Atalia had to cut up an adult body bag to make it fit a dead child. Improvising, she had to bandage up the bag to keep the child from falling out.
‘We became nurses because we want to help people, not spread infection…’
It can be too much to bear for Atalia, herself mother to a young child. She says: ‘Every time you ask for anything you just see “NS, NS” – it means “No Stock, No Stock”.’
Atalia wants to speak out. She’s part of the nursing school’s SRC, and has joined Sascos and Denosa because she’s desperate for the situation for nurses to change. She says keeping quiet and not protesting has not served them one bit.
‘I am one person who cannot stand oppression. I don’t think it’s right, how this province is being run. We became nurses because we want to help people, not spread infection because we don’t have gloves, or not to turn people away because there are no supplies,’ she says.
‘Sometimes I think the community doesn’t understand. They think that we are not doing our jobs or that we don’t want to help them, but sometimes there’s just nothing that we can do.
‘Those are the days when I think of just quitting,’ she says.