90% percent of the Cape metropole is a red zone for violent crime. The Weekend Argus reports that so says veteran medic JA van Zyl, manager of the southern district division of Western Cape EMS. The bloodshed is so intense in areas such as Tafelsig, Beacon Valley and Eastridge that there is a constant demand of around 3,000 calls per month from those regions alone. In addition, whole areas have been declared red zones by EMS because ambulance crews have recently been attacked there.
In an attempt to protect medics, ambulances can’t enter red zones without a police escort. “The impact is huge because the knock-on effect is that people wait for hours (for an ambulance).” Van Zyl said that mostly, gangsters leave medics alone thanks to all the gang members whose lives they’ve saved. “The problem is not gangsters. Gangsters will not attack us, because of all the patients over the years,” he said. “The problem is opportunistic criminals who steal to fund tik and whoonga use.”
The report says being escorted by police not only fails to protect medics, but sometimes even incentivises an attack. “It actually increases the risk when SAPS is there because they have firearms,” he said. “That’s why we discourage EMS staff from carrying firearms. They’ll kill you brutally for a firearm.”
The report says Western Cape Health makes support services available to its employees through ICAS, a company which runs employee wellness programmes. EMS medics can access psychological counselling for free – but many choose not to make use of the service.
EMS crews know they risk their own lives to save others, says an earlier Weekend Argus report. Sometimes those they save are the very same individuals who put them at risk. Medics Rushaana Gallow and Grant October have worked together since 2014. Both have been attacked multiple times, and Gallow has been shot in the arm. There have also been armed robberies on them in Gugulethu and Nyanga this month.
“You’d think that being escorted by police would offer some protection, but with criminals hungry for guns, police create even more of a target. The suspects want the guns that the SAPS have,” October is quoted in the report as saying. In one incident, his colleagues were called to a patient in Gugulethu, where they would have to get a SAPS escort. But it was a hoax call to ambush the police. “They shot at police, and one of the police officers died, and one of the suspects also died. I ended up responding to the call because we all heard our colleague over the radio and raced there,” October said.
He called for security guards to be stationed on every ambulance. “It would solve all these problems; just get a private security company. Simple.”Weekend Argus report Weekend Argus report