Blacks Get Care at White Hospitals During Defiance Campaign
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ More than 200 black and Indian patients, supported by throngs of protesters, were treated at segregated white hospitals today as the anti- apartheid movement launched a nationwide defiance campaign.
The campaign, in which other major protests are planned before and after next month’s segregated elections, is seen as the most ambitious civil disobedience initiative in the country in nearly 30 years.
″The defiance campaign will be taken to every corner and every section of society until apartheid is unworkable,″ said Jay Naidoo, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest anti-apartheid labor federation, at a rally in Johannesburg.
At major hospitals in Johannesburg and Durban, patients ranging from babies to grandmothers in wheelchairs were admitted for treatment. Hospital officials, trying to avoid confrontations, said they would not turn away anyone who appeared in genuine need of medical care.
Twelve white women supporting the protest were arrested in Johannesburg, but no violence was reported at any of the eight hospitals targeted by the Mass Democratic Movement, a coalition of anti-apartheid groups that planned the defiance campaign.
Murphy Morobe, a leader of the United Democratic Front, South Africa’s main anti-apartheid alliance before it was banned last year, told reporters the hospital protest is ″a major victory″ and praised doctors who cooperated.
In the port city of Durban, more than 1,000 protesters staged an illegal demonstration near Addington Hospital while 140 blacks and Indians, under the direction of senior anti-apartheid leaders, were admitted for out-patient care. ″Apartheid Makes Us Sick,″ said one of the posters carried at the rally.
The first protester to enter Addington was Mariam Jagga, an elderly Indian woman in a wheelchair.
By midday, 48 blacks were admitted to Johannesburg General Hospital, according to a spokesman, and 100 supporters staged a rally at an adjoining medical school. Like Addington, Johannesburg General regularly admits some blacks for emergency care and specialized treatment, but it has a policy of transferring them to less well-equipped black hospitals as soon as feasible.
Dr. Reg Broekmann, superintendent of Johannesburg General, said about 11 percent of his 830 current patients were black.
Dasoo noted that the blacks were admitted within an hour at Johannesburg General, much quicker than the normal processing time at badly overcrowded Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, the region’s main facility for black patients.
The campaign that began today is widely viewed as the most ambitious in South Africa since a sporadic but long-running campaign in the 1950s to encourare defiance of apartheid laws.
Those protests ended in March 1960, when police gunfire killed 69 blacks participating in a peaceful demonstration against the now-abolished pass laws that restricted blacks’ freedom of movement.
Anti-apartheid groups have organized several one-day or two-day nationwide general strikes in recent years and a widespread hunger strike early this year by hundreds of detainees resulted in the release of virtually all of them.
Hospital segregation, however, has never before been the target of coordinated protests.
The protests today were smaller or non-existent at the six targeted hospitals outside Johannesburg and Durban. Activists said some would-be protesters were stopped at police roadblocks.
Nine blacks were admitted to a white hospital in Pretoria, 15 in Vereeniging and a few others in the conservative mining town of Krugersdorp, where medical segregation has been enforced firmly.
″Without intervention such as this, these people wouldn’t even get to see a doctor,″ said Audrey Coleman, a white activist who was at Paardekraal.
Protest organizers said their goal is not merely to enable some blacks to get treatment at the white hospitals but to abolish the use of race as a criterion for obtaining health care.
Dasoo said he and his colleagues would ″protest most strongly″ if blacks admitted to Johannesburg General today were transferred to segregated black hospitals later.
Large contingents of police were deployed at the targeted hospitals, and 12 white women of the Black Sash civil rights group were arrested in Johannesburg while staging an outdoor demonstration protesting segregated hospitals.
They later were released, and police said a decision would be made whether they would be charged with violating laws restricting outdoor protests.