Are CHWs Suffering From Stockholm Syndrome?

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It is time for Community Healthcare Workers to do some serious assessment.

CHWs in all nine provinces of our beloved country needs to firstly take stock of ourselves and take stock of the relationship they have with organised labour. Lastly, we must take serious stock of the relationship we have with our colleagues in other provinces.

In doing so we should also ask ourselves why does it seem as if we can’t find one another? Why are we singing from different platforms and speaking past each other instead of coming together and working together for a common good?

Instead of coming together and working together most CHWs seem preoccupied about what this union or that union is doing wrong and about how less of a working class they are.

I have had opportunities on many occasions to challenge any CHW who dares to listen to start investing their energies in leading the struggle for the emancipation of CHWs but the response has been in most cases overwhelming disappointment. I have learnt that there is a general lack of urgency and will to rescue ourselves from the box we find ourselves in, for many of us the country over.

The mistake we make sometimes is that we have this belief that there is a Messiah somewhere who will save us, like the children of Israel who were once upon a time imprisoned in Egypt until Moses came to rescue them. Too many CHWs seem to have shifted their focus from action to prayer and it is very sad to see.

Why are we failing to take a lesson from the victory of CHWs in Gauteng? The struggle for emancipation of CHWs in Gauteng was never an easy route. It was and still is a very demanding struggle filled with a lot of challenges which lasted almost ten years.

Is there a possibility that organised labour may be working with the employer to sabotage any chance that exists for permanent absorption of CHWs? Many CHWs refuse to accept the possibility of this happening. They are convinced that unions are working very hard, day and night for CHWs to be recognised and to be rewarded accordingly.

There is however another group of CHWs like myself who believe that nothing genuine is being done by unions to advance the interests of CHWs. Our argument is based on the history of some unions and the relationship these unions have with the employer. This group of CHWs is not shy to point to the number of former unionist turned politicians who are serving in ANC-led parliament. The fact that the majority of unions are in alliance with the ruling party and are part of all the decisions affecting us today should be a reason enough for the working class to start treating unions with suspicion.

Stockholm Syndrome is a condition in which hostages develop a pyshological bond (sometimes trust and affection) with their kidnappers/captors during captivity. Sometimes I think CHWs suffer from Stockholm Syndrome because I fail to find any reason why after all these years we still come across so many who still believe unions have their interests at heart and that unions are the answer to their problems.

This article was submitted on 18 May 2021. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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