NEHAWU calls on Department of Health not to discard the dream of Nelson Mandela

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] calls on the Department of Health not to discard the dream of Nelson Mandela of training future doctors in Cuba. In 1996 Former President Mandela and Fidel Castro signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement on health which made provision for mass training of South African doctors in Cuba and the deployment of Cuban doctors to the country to work in rural areas.

Madiba’s dream is existentially threatened by the Department of Health that flatly refuses to renew the agreement, in spite of the chronic shortage of doctors and specialised skills. The Cuba-SA cooperation on health is cited by the United Nations as the model of South-South cooperation, which is not only about money but about the revolution and saving people’s lives. Throughout the years the agreement has benefitted rural and remote communities who have no access to primary healthcare.

As NEHAWU, we will not allow the dream of Tata Mandela to be obliterated especially in the year of his centenary. For years Cuban doctors have provided rural communities with publicly delivered quality medical service, when some locally trained doctors have largely refused to work in rural public hospitals opting to work in urban private medical facilities and closer to better work opportunities. Our public healthcare system needs more doctors to deal with the current shortage of medical personnel. If government is serious about providing quality healthcare they will renew the agreement with the Cubans and ensure that more doctors are trained for the benefit of the working class and the poor.

The current agreement expired in November 2017 and this places in jeopardy the lives of thousands of our people and effectively forecloses the 500 Cuban doctors from continuing delivering healthcare service. All the relevant government departments including DIRCO and the Department of Health are aware of this matter and nothing is done to fix the mess. As things stand 32 Cuban doctors have left the country because their contracts have not been renewed. In 2019 another 221 doctors will leave the country and this will disadvantage more than 45 needy hospitals who are benefiting from the service of these doctors.

With the imminent implementation of the National Health Insurance [NHI] the country needs more doctors and specialised skills to ensure that the public has access to primary healthcare. The national union believes in the Cuban approach of preventative health which promotes healthy lifestyle rather than reacting to sickness. For the NHI to succeed the country needs to accelerate the training of new doctors and ensure that we have enough doctors to cater for our health needs.

In the centenary of Tata Mandela who signed the agreement and Mama Albertina Sisulu who was a healthcare professional, we vow to fight the intentions by the Department of Health to stop the training of doctors by the Cuban government. Tata Mandela had a dream of a healthy South Africa and a country that takes care of the wellbeing of its citizens. As part of celebrating their centenary the national union commits itself to see to it that their dreams lives on.

The national union is elated that 700 medical graduates are arriving tomorrow from Cuba and will join in in their welcome ceremony next week. Our universities are a dismally failure who can never train this large amount of graduates, hence the national union believes that we desperately need the intergovernmental cooperation agreement on health to be renewed.

We believe that the 700 medical graduates armed with their knowledge of preventative healthcare approach will play a huge role in assisting our ailing public healthcare system as a massive investment for the future of the NHI. Such a contribution is inconceivable especially from a tiny Caribbean island that does not have abundant resources but is only motivated by Madiba’s values. For the past 22 years the Cubans have shown us the humanity and achievements of socialism.

The national union will intensify the call for more doctors to be trained in Cuba and for the intergovernmental cooperation agreement on health to be renewed and improved. As part of our upcoming Provincial Day of Action in Limpopo, Northern Cape, Free State, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal we will raise sharply the issue of training more doctors in Cuba as part of ensuring that the public healthcare system is not deliberately understaffed with negative consequences for the quality of service delivery.

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat

Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU Media Liaison Officer) at 082 455 2500 or email: Visit NEHAWU website: