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Police-Escorted Paramedics?

This isn’t really my story, but in a sense it belongs to all South Africans. It’s our shame and may be part of our downfall.

We are a people at war. We war against ourselves and we war against peace. Each fights for himself and bugger the rest. But who heals the fallen? It seems in South Africa that quite soon it may be no one.

Recently a story made the news. It was shocking, but it actually gives an inclination of how morally decayed South African society has become. An ambulance was despatched to some informal settlement after a household fire burned a child. The caretakers of the child brought the child to an intersection that the ambulance would actually be able to find. quite soon the paramedics were hard at work stabilising the screaming child. At about this stage, two armed thugs turned up. They threatened the child’s caretakers with their lives and forced them to flee. Then, while the child continued to scream in pain, they raped the female paramedic. They were not caught.

Yes, it’s shocking and now the ambulance personnel need to wait for police escort before they respond to calls in certain areas, greatly increasing their reaction time. We would like to believe this sort of thing is isolated, but is it? Just the other day I heard on the news about another case where a crowd assaulted the ambulance crew because they wanted to help the victim of a stabbing. As I said, we are at war with each other and the victim was their enemy, for whatever trivial reason.

But the question I end up asking has little to do with the morality of what’s going on. That, it seems to me, is obvious. To discuss morality with the people involved in these stories is a waste of time and effort. I wonder when at war (which we clearly are) how is it in your interest to antagonise the medics? Yes, you may have won today’s battle and not actually need a medic, but what about tomorrow? Who will help you when you find yourself on the business end of a knife or panga? Also, the people who give their lives to help the injured and downtrodden are not quite as involved in their petty squabbles as they may imagine. To drag them in and try to kill them for helping the wrong person is both small-minded and short-sighted. We didn’t really need evidence to know the people that engage in this sort of activity fit nicely into this category, but there it is if you want.

A number of years ago a paramedic friend of mine responded to a gunshot case in Mamelodi outside Pretoria. What he didn’t know was that the mob around the patient had little interest in the survival of the patient. They actually wanted him dead. The paramedic, therefore, in their narrow view of events was the opposition. As far as they were concerned, anyone from the opposition should also be dispatched.

He drove into the thick of things in all oblivion. When he arrived, he opened the car door to find out how he could help. The crowd immediately tried to drag him out of the car, beating him with fists and the weapons they had at hand as they did so. He quickly realized he was going to share the same fate as the patient, which was, by that time, sealed. By pure accident the paramedic’s safety belt was not loose and they could not pull him out. He slammed the car into gear and throttled out of there with his torso leaning out of the open door in true Hollywood style.

Thereafter, the ambulance service refused to respond to calls from Mamelodi except with a police escort. Bearing in mind our police are stretched thinly on a good day, the whole situation became ludicrous. I would love to believe in some sort of karma where the people that suffered because no help was forthcoming were the people who were responsible for the problem in the first place, but, like all wars, the actual people who suffer will be the old and the weak, the vulnerable and the children. But that is the African way.

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

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