While the country waited for President Cyril Ramaphosa to meet North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, the ongoing protests in Mahikeng and other parts of North West threatened to spiral into a diplomatic and trade crisis between South Africa and Botswana after the neighbouring country closed its border with South Africa.
The protests by angry residents spread outside of the main centre of Mahikeng into Zeerust, near the Botswana border yesterday. The road between Zeerust and Mahikeng was closed and Botswana instructed truck drivers heading towards North West to find alternative routes.
The country feared a repeat of what happened earlier this week, when several vehicles, including a truck and a bus coming from Botswana, were torched near Mahikeng. Looting and stoning of vehicles were reported, while at least 23 people were arrested in connection with the riots.
As fear mounted about the possible shortage of medicines at healthcare facilities due to the protests, health MEC Dr Magome Masike yesterday said his department asked pharmaceutical companies or suppliers to deliver medicines directly to the main provincial hospitals, instead of depots.
Masike also confirmed that the SA National Defence Force military medical services had been summoned to assist at the provincial hospitals.
Residents struggled to get medications from hospitals and clinics, fearing for their safety, while some nurses stayed at home, leading to a bottleneck at Mahikeng Hospital.
International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu yesterday said the main reason President Ramaphosa cut short his visit to the Commonwealth heads of state gathering in London was his concern about Gaberone’s decision to close the border with North West.
The president feared it could create tensions that could become an international crisis. The two countries always had cordial relations, dating back to Botswana’s support for the ANC-led liberation struggle.
Also, North West has ancestral and cultural links with Botswana.
The president was said to be concerned about the impact of the protests to the trade with neighbouring countries.
Masike confirmed Zeerust Hospital had been closed and doctors moved to Mahikeng Hospital, due to the protests spreading to the small town situated northeast of Mahikeng.
But he denied allegations that the deaths of two patients were due to the protests, saying it could have been as a result of complications.
This week, some patients at Mahikeng Hospital were sent home to ease the workload and ensure their safety. Protests continued in many parts of Mahikeng.
The residents are demanding that Premier Supra Mahumapelo resign over allegations of corruption involving him and some senior government officials. The protests started on Tuesday.
Prior to Ramaphosa’s arrival yesterday, Police Minister Bheki Cele met residents of Danville and heard their grievances relating to the lack of public services, such as poor health infrastructure and poor roads.
They also complained about drug abuse in the area and demanded the paving of streets and for an unfinished stadium to be completed.
Cele promised to visit the coloured township community, along with senior police management, including national commissioner Khehla Sitole, to discuss and find a solution to the residents’ problems.