Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals are yet to be vaccinated despite President Ramaphosa saying all adults in South Africa will get the vaccines.
According to the Zimbabwe Migration Support Network (ZiMSN), an organisation representing Zimbabwean nationals in South Africa, accessing healthcare services – even for medical emergencies – is difficult without valid documents.
“Hundreds of Zimbabwean nationals with medical conditions were refused treatment by local hospitals and clinics because they don’t have proper documents, as their permits expired during lockdown,” ZiMSN chairman, Chris Mapingure, told Spotlight.
He said some pregnant migrants were charged exorbitant fees to deliver babies in public facilities. Mapingure said they received reports of a Zimbabwean man who was denied surgery in a hospital in Gauteng and was told to sign an admission of debt before they would perform any form of surgery.
“Another challenge that migrants encounter when requiring healthcare services in South Africa is the lack of proper information,” said Mapingure. “For example, during the Covid-19 period, there was not any form of communication about foreign nationals… about whether they could test in government testing centres.
“The lack of accurate information about their rights has barred many Zimbabweans from accessing healthcare services, assuming that testing centres were meant only for local people,” he said.
“Even now, the department of health has not yet come up with a clear clarification about vaccination arrangements for foreigners,” Mapingure added.
“That alone gives us sleepless nights. Foreigners were also prevented [from receiving] food parcels that were being distributed [by government], with preference given to local citizens.”
Mapingure said the South African government must be clear, and extend the vaccination rollout to all who live in South Africa.
A 59-year-old Zimbabwean woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, told Spotlight she has lived in South Africa for the past two decades and has been on chronic medication for three years.
“Local clinic nurses don’t have problems when assisting foreigners with their medical needs,” she says. “Challenges are experienced at referral hospitals, as we are subjected to abuse.
“I was once turned away at the Port Elizabeth provincial hospital because of a lack of a valid permit to stay in the country. The snubbing of foreigners at hospitals is discouraging patients from accessing healthcare services, with potentially fatal consequences.”
“Everybody in South Africa is entitled to access healthcare regardless of their nationality or documentation status,” said Jessica Lawrence, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights.
“No one may be refused emergency treatment because everybody may access healthcare.
“Free healthcare is received by South African citizens, so anybody who goes to public health facilities will be means-tested in order to check if they qualify for free healthcare.
“Foreign nationals are not entitled to free healthcare if they are undocumented. Undocumented persons have to pay for healthcare,” said Lawrence.
According to her, many foreign nationals could not renew their permits when Home Affairs offices temporarily closed. “So no one has been able to renew their papers. The department of home affairs instructed that documentation that expired during lockdown will be automatically extended until 31 March 2021.
“However, we have noticed that many healthcare facilities don’t know about this automatic extension. We are concerned that the lack of communication between government departments will result in foreign nationals being excluded from the vaccine rollout,” Lawrence said.
“We believe everybody living in South Africa is eligible for vaccination when it becomes available in their communities. We are currently engaging with the department of health to ensure that foreign nationals are part of the vaccination programme, including those who are undocumented,” says Lawrence.-Daily Maverick