Unemployed doctors in Mpumalanga sitting at home while ‘there are clinics without doctors’ 

Protestors lying on sidewalk holding placards
In April unemployed junior doctors camped outside the KZN health offices. (Supplied)

Twenty-nine-year-old Dieketseng*, a junior doctor from Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, is the first person in her family to go to university. But, her dream of working as a doctor and providing for her family is yet to materialise.  

Dieketseng finished her obligated community service in December and has been sitting at home since, unable to find a job. Now she, along with four siblings and her two-year-old daughter, depend on the pension her mother gets from the government. 

She is only one of nearly 80 junior doctors in Mpumalanga who have been looking for work since December. 

“I was one of the few people who obtained a bursary to study in Cuba with the agreement to work in the province after completing my studies. This was something big for my family as it meant I would be able to take care of them financially,” Dieketseng says. 

Broken promises 

Dieketseng and several of her fellow unemployed doctors spoke with Health-e News on conditions of anonymity as they fear reprisal. The junior doctors say Mpumalanga Health’s Head of Department told them, in the last week of March, that they would be employed in the first week of April. 

“When I completed [my studies] in December I had hopes of growing in the medical field. I immediately applied as the department said we should, but nothing, the department is silent. In March we reached out to the department and we were told we would be employed by the 1st week of April,” says Dieketseng.

On 2 April Jabulani Nkosi, the provincial department’s Chief Director of Human Resources wrote a letter to the chief directors, corporate services, hospital CEOs and clinical managers about the appointment of medical officers. The letter includes details of 77 unemployed junior doctors, and reads:  

“Please receive attached hereto a list of unemployed medical officers who should be prioritised in the advertised posts. A management plan should be submitted to the office of the Chief Director Human Resource management and challenges communicated. The due date for the finalisation of the hiring process is 30 April 2024.” 

Dieketseng and her colleagues are still unemployed. 

“We are now in May and the department’s silence is deafening.” 

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Another unemployed doctor from Katjibane village in Nkangala District says it doesn’t make sense that the province gave them bursaries to study then not employ them. He says, of the group of 77 unemployed doctors, 14 studied in Cuba. The rest are bursary holders who studied at South African universities.

“Unemployment has affected me so badly. My family is struggling financially. I was the only one working at home since 2021 [during his internship and community service), and I now stand to lose my car.”  

He tries to temporarily locum (fill in) for other doctors to make ends meet. “This doesn’t help because sometimes you can go a week or two without being called.”  

We spoke with another doctor from Bushbuckridge who also studied in Cuba courtesy of the provincial government.  

“There are clinics without doctors and hospitals where doctors have to attend to emergency room and theatre operations causing long queues, something that affects the quality of healthcare. But we are sitting at home with our medical degrees, doing nothing,” says the 32-year-old.  

She says even though the bursary contract states that they are obligated to work for the Mpumalanga health department, she has decided to apply in other provinces. 

“If I get a job I will deal with legal implications later. For now I need to work and be able to keep the wolf at bay. My family cannot survive on empty promises,” she says. 

National problem

Early in February a group of unemployed doctors from all over the country marched to Union Buildings in Pretoria asking President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in their plight for jobs. 

During the same month, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla announced that the government was working tirelessly to ensure that 800 unemployed doctors who want to join the public service are placed by 1 April. 

In the first week of April a group of about 100 unemployed junior doctors camped out in front of the KwaZulu-Natal health department’s offices in Pietermaritzburg. 

And most recently, unemployed doctors in the Eastern Cape have threatened a sit-in at the provincial health office if they aren’t employed.  

In April Health-e News spoke with Dr Nkateko Mnisi deputy president of the South African Medical Association Trade Union who said the unemployment of junior doctors has become an annual issue

“Last year we handed a memorandum about unemployed doctors to Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla. Early this year we were in the same situation… Meanwhile public hospitals are operating on skeleton staff.” 

A media enquiry was sent to the Mpumalanga health department and will be added as soon as it has been received. – Health-e News

*Not her real name 

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