By Ufrieda Ho
Back in the mid-90s, Angelina Manale Mookadi had dreams of becoming a nurse. “I thought it was a profession I could afford because the government was going to help me pay for my studies. And I always wanted to help my community,” she says, sitting in the kitchen of her home in Tsephong, outside of Welkom, in the Free State.
She flips through a photo album of her early days working with the community. In the pictures she’s in her 20s and she’s dressed in neat white tops and dark skirts – dressed to visit her patients. She smiles as she looks at photos and talks about former colleagues and “the good ol’ days”.
Mookadi never went on to become a nurse and became a community health worker (CHW) instead. It has never mattered to Mookadi because being of service was and still is what counts for her.
This year marks 20 years of service that Mookadi has under her belt. They’ve been proud years mostly, but the last two years have signalled a turning point that has disappointed her, hurt her even.
In 2014 the Free State Department of Health dismissed around 3 800 community health workers on the grounds of not having a matric or for being too old to do the job. The following year a peaceful candlelight protest at the Free State Health Department’s Bophelo House led to the arrest of over 120 community health workers. Of those, 94 were charged for being part of a “prohibited gathering”. The case is on-going.
“I’m one of the 94 people who still faces charges. It has been painful to have worked for such a long time and to be treated like this by the MEC. I was one of those got my job back because I have a matric, but there are many other CHWs who are going hungry.
“We are the people who have the experience and we know what our patients need. They need us so they don’t become defaulters so that they can be healthy again – we are the ones who know what they go through.
“Sometimes we bring food and sometimes we even have to help wash them, but that is what we are used to doing and we do it to help them,” she says.
Mookadi says the MEC’s decision to axe the CHWs has already had negative repercussions. It has increased the patient load for the current pool of working CHWs, so that they seldom get to see all the patients on their list in a typical day.
Neither do they get paid more for their extra workload – they still receive a stipend of only R1 700
It’s made the job tougher for CHWs who still only receive a R1 700 a month stipend.
Mookadi is committed to adding more years to her service record in spite of these challenges and the court case that is playing itself out slowly. She feels compelled to speak out against the health department’s decision.
She says: “Benny Malakoane (Free State Health MEC) is in the court himself. He ate the taxpayers’ money, and he must still answer. But we want to work, we don’t want our patients to suffer. He should want the same.”