21/03/2017 19:24 SAST | Updated 22/03/2017 06:54 SAST

Baby Dies After Gauteng Strikers' Blockade Forces Vulnerable Children To Move To NGOs

Is this another Life Esidimeni disaster? Gauteng moved more than 90 vulnerable children to NGOs because of a Nehawu strikers' blockade.

Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla
This photo was from a commemoration for Life Esidimeni patients. In February, the Health Ombud issued a report blaming the Gauteng government for sending psychiatric patients to unregistered NGOs to save money on car; at least 100 are confirmed to have died. Now Gauteng has had to move more than 90 vulnerable children to NGOs because of a strike and a baby has died.

A six-month-old baby girl died on Tuesday after she was moved out of a Gauteng state child care centre to an NGO because of a healthworkers' blockade, says the Gauteng social development department.

While details of the cause of the baby's death were not yet available, department spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba said the move was believed to have had an effect.

The baby's name was not released.

"The fact that there was a strike and they were moved: we believe that there was an impact," Xaba told the Huffington Post South Africa.

"We're not too sure of the circumstances, but we just link it to the strike because the children were moved because of the strike."

The child is understood to have been unwell, but speculation is that the move may have affected her.

"Nothing can justify placing vulnerable children, the elderly and disabled in harm's way," said Mbangwa.

Xaba said the strike by healthworkers under the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) started on Monday March 13. Although some health workers are classified as essential services, the child and youth care centres were blockaded could not operate.

On Friday, more than 90 children were moved from the Gauteng Department of Social Development's child and youth care centres (CYCCs).

The baby was removed from the Walter Sisulu CYCC and placed at another care centre, said Mbangwa.

"The children were moved on Friday as striking workers barricaded entrances at the affected centres barring essential supplies such as food, medication and the laundry."

Gauteng Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza is due to brief the media on the situation on Wednesday morning.

Nehawu wasn't immediately available for comment: the union later commented here.

The situation has echoes of the disastrous Life Esidimeni situation, when at least 100 psychiatric patients died when the Gauteng Department of Health moved them out of Life Esidimeni facilities last year to NGOs in order to save money. A report by the Health Ombud established that all 27 NGOs used were unregistered.

Mbangwa said the comparison with the Esidimeni situation was unfair and that the NGOs had been checked. "We regulate NGOs so we would know which NGOs are properly registered."

He said that Nehawu was striking over national demands for rural allowances (which doesn't affect Gauteng) and for an occupation-specific dispensation for better starting pay for those with higher qualifications. "Even if the strike is legitimate, we still have to abide by the rules of engagement," said Mbangwa.