10 years later Bheki Mlangeni Hospital is in dire need of ‘competent and honest management’

View of Bheki Mlangeni hospital from
The hospital continues to receive poor reviews from patients.

On 30 April 2014, a R730-million, 300-bed hospital, Zola Jabulani (later renamed Bheki Mlangeni) was opened in Soweto to ease the load on Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which served a population of more than 500,000 from Soweto, and referrals from outside the province. The Gauteng Premier at the time, Nomvula Mokonyane, urged the community to look after the new infrastructure. 

“When we came into office in 2009, we committed ourselves to give Soweto the best. Let’s treasure this place.”

But the much lauded facility, the first new hospital built in Gauteng since 1994, soon developed a reputation for poor service. Instead of the best, residents of Soweto say they were given the worst. By 2020 locals dubbed  it ‘Avbob’, after the funeral service society, due to the number of deaths as a result of mismanagement and bad service.

The complaints were egregious. Rape, physical assaults, murder, babies dying, gross neglect of patients. In October 2020, the former CEO Ruth Mabyana was removed as she was implicated in a jobs for cash scandal, and the Human Rights Commission convened an inquiry into the running of the facility in November 2020.

10 Years later

A decade later, not much has changed for the residents of Soweto.

Gauteng health spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance (DA), Jack Bloom says there was a definite need for the hospital. But its impact has been hampered by resource constraints. 

“Bheki Mlangeni Hospital is a district hospital which has infrastructure problems. It hasn’t lived up to its purpose. The facility is battling with equipment problems and still doesn’t have proper psychiatric units,” he says. 

“The reality is that we need more intermediate hospitals as it takes pressure off academic hospitals and is cost effective. But the problem is that we still have people who prefer to go straight to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital,” he says. 

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Gauteng chairperson Monwabisi Mbasa says even though Bheki Mlangeni Hospital was built under the new dispensation it isn’t delivering effective services.

“Our [TAC] structures have adopted hospitals for monitoring and advocacy purposes. We have members who use Bheki Mlangeni Hospital quite often. The facility is suffering from a chronic shortage of human resources. It is also facing serious challenges with the lack of sophisticated medical equipment that hinders surgical and diagnostic services,” he says. 

He adds that when there are water cuts in Johannesburg, which has become a regular occurrence, primary healthcare facilities like Zola Gateway Clinic and Zola Community Healthcare Centre often suspend services and patients will be transferred to Bheki Mlangeni Hospital. 

“Due to the lack of adequate capacity the hospital will be overwhelmed. There was a point when the facility was facing challenges of infant mortality because of overcrowding and inability to implement infection control measures,” he says. 

While the hospital is faced with many challenges, there were some positive developments, with the hospital opening a standalone 14 bed psychiatric ward in 2021. 

It  showed potential for excellence last year when it performed its first heart surgery on a Grade 12 pupil who got stabbed on the heart and head while trying to save a fellow pupil from being mugged. 

However it continues to receive poor reviews from patients. 

During a recent visit to the embattled facility Health-e News found two young men, brothers, on a third floor balcony basking, shirtless in the afternoon sun. 

The 21-year-old who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal says when he got to the hospital two weeks prior, he was told there were no beds available.

“I work for a recycling company in Johannesburg. Two weeks ago as I was preparing to go home after my shift, I accidentally stepped on broken glass. My foot swelled up and I was in excruciating pain. My bosses immediately rushed me to this hospital because it is closer to home,” he says. 

The young man says when he first got to the hospital, he waited for hours on the benches and he ended up leaving.

“It was going to be uncomfortable for me to sleep on the benches, even though I was in pain I managed to walk home and I returned the following morning. The nurses told me that I had discharged myself so they needed to open a new file for me which also took hours,” he says. 

He says he was eventually allocated a bed and was due for an operation the same week. However, it was postponed twice. “I am scared that my foot will be amputated and I am the breadwinner at home,” he says. 

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Health-e News spoke to nurses who say they are not to blame for all the troubles at Bheki Mlangeni. 

“A lot of negative stuff has been said about the hospital. People are saying it’s ‘Avbob’ which is unfair because patients come here when they are already critically ill. They wait till the last minutes and they expect us to perform miracles”, says one.

Another nurse says the 300 bed hospital is battling to keep up with demand from 11 communities in Soweto with a population of more than 1.6 million residents. The hospital offers a range of services including outpatient care, male medical circumcision, accident and emergency, obstetrics and gynaecology, neonatal unit and paediatrics. 

“We are forced to ask the patients to wait in the benches while we wait for a bed to be available,” she says. 

Making a turnaround

It is a beautiful new building, and with proper management it can be more useful. At this stage the hospital needs competent and honest management. It’s a very new hospital that needs to be well run and unfortunately this is not happening,” says Bloom. 

The hospital has an acting CEO, Dr Makabedi Makhetha who has been acting since 2020 after the suspension of Ruth Mabyana.

A media enquiry has been sent to Gauteng Health and it will be added once received. – Health-e News


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