Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba has sparked a storm of controversy after the emergence of a video showing her telling a woman that migrants from Zimbabwe were a “huge strain” on the provincial healthcare system.
But despite concerns about the MEC’s remarks and her seemingly inflammatory comments about Zimbabweans, the government says it is not a “diplomatic incident” just yet.
The woman Ramathuba is addressing in the video is believed to be Zimbabwean.
In the video, Ramathuba is seen during a visit to Bela Bela Hospital, addressing a patient as she lies in bed.
Ramathuba tells her that Zimbabweans using South African healthcare services were placing a “huge strain” on the provincial health department.
She also tells the woman that Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa “doesn’t give [her] money to operate” on Zimbabweans, and that she was therefore doing it on a limited budget.
She said: “You know he (Mnangagwa) doesn’t give me money to operate? You are killing my health system. When you guys are sick, I’m hearing these days you just say, ‘Let’s cross the Limpopo River, there’s a MEC there that’s running a charity department’.
“Instead of using the budget for what it’s meant for, I’m operating for what Mnangagwa is supposed to do. That is why when my people of Limpopo want health services, they can’t get. That is angering the community.”
She goes on to say that the health department received a budget based on the number of people living in the province who didn’t have medical aid, but that she was also using it for foreign nationals, many of whom were undocumented.
“You are killing my health system. This is unfair.”
After the video went viral on social media, some people criticised the MEC, while others defended and said she was saying things that needed to be said.
Speaking to News24 on Wednesday morning, Ramathuba sought to defend her comments, saying they had nothing to do with being “anti-illegal”.
She claimed she had been “misinterpreted” because her province continued to offer medical treatment to everyone regardless of their nationality.
“Let me first indicate, unfortunately, the clip is misinterpreted. But people who follow the work we do as a province understand it’s nothing to do with being anti-illegal (sic).
“Nobody will be denied medical service. We have been doing that and continue to do that whether you are Zim or not.”
The MEC said the health department had been running an initiative to reduce the surgical backlog caused by Covid-19, and that she had recently found that foreign nationals were on the lists for elective surgeries.
“In treating the orthopaedic surgery backlog, I went to a ward and, out of 27 patients, 19 were illegal foreign nationals. The one said he got into an accident in Harare and came here because he heard there is Dr Phophi bringing specialist doctors to Musina for operations.”
Ramathuba added that the issue has existed for some time and had been flagged with her “counterparts”.
She asked, “If my counterparts do not care, must I also fold my arms and not care about the welfare of South Africans?”
The national Department of Health had not commented at the time of publication. It will be added once provided.
Meanwhile, Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela said Ramathuba’s outburst was not yet “a diplomatic incident”.
“If Zimbabwe was to raise the incident through diplomatic channels, only then would Dirco become involved. So far, it’s not a diplomatic incident. It has not been elevated,” he said.
Watch video below:
In any normal country this video would be the leading item on all news stations & newspapers, and it would cause emergency debate in parliament tomorrow morning, but not in Zimbabwe.
This South African minister is right, Zimbabwe has become an embarrassment due to ZANUPF LOOTING pic.twitter.com/XzCWRHx9GN
— Hopewell Chin’ono (@daddyhope) August 23, 2022