Cuban 'victimised over religion'

A Cuban doctor alleges he was evicted, thrown into prison and unfairly dismissed last year by the Eastern Cape Health Department because he converted to Islam.

Paediatrician Dr Juan Elutil Yings came to South Africa five years ago under the government-to-government agreement between Cuba and South Africa.

Yings, who worked at the Tayler Bequest Hospital in Mount Frere until his dismissal, said his trouble started when he converted to Islam two years ago.

"I was visited by the Cuban co-ordinator, who saw a picture of Mecca, the holy place for Muslims, and Arabic scripture in my house. He commented negatively on my new religious status."

Soon after this visit he received a letter, dated May 22, from the Eastern Cape Health Department, which gave him nine days to assume duties at the remote Tafalofefe Hospital, 50km from Butterworth.

Yings allegedly objected to the decision to redeploy him to a place that can only be reached with a 4x4 in bad weather.

A gynaecologist's letter stated that his five months' pregnant wife was "hypertensive with a heart disease".

"There are no facilities at Tafalofefe," Yings told the Witness.

A letter from the Mount Fletcher District Office vouching for the doctor's good conduct and expressing the community's anger at losing Yings, was apparently ignored. He was told to move or be deported.

In August, home affairs officials arrested him "in front of my two-year-old daughter and my wife", and put him in Umtata prison. His work permit, which was still valid at the time - a copy is in the possession of the Witness - was allegedly cancelled and he was charged with contravening the Aliens Control Act.

After one night in a cell which he had to share with rape and murder suspects, a Mount Frere businessman paid a R7 000 repatriation fee to get him out of prison. With the help of an MP, his permit was extended for a further three months.

During his period in prison, his wife and daughter were evicted from their home on the hospital premises.

Numerous requests to Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the Eastern Cape Cuban representative have proved futile.

In a letter to an Inkatha Freedom Party MP, Tshabalala-Msimang said she could not approve Yings's reinstatement as "this could compromise the relations between the South African and Cuban governments and the working relations with other Cuban doctors, which in the long run will have a negative impact on health service delivery in rural hospitals".

Eastern Cape Cuban representative deputy director Nomvula Kwadjo said she would only comment in court, while national Cuban co-ordinator Dr Jaime Davis referred media enquiries to the national health department.

Yings's attorney Ishana Hassim said the matter will be referred to the bargaining council, requesting that he be reinstated on the basis of discrimination and the unilateral alteration of his conditions of service.

Meanwhile, support for the doctor, who on busy days attended to between 200 and 300 patients, has poured in from the community. Written statements by colleagues describe him as "a very good doctor, who is serious about his work and has upgraded the malnutrition unit".

A letter from staff members of the Madrassa Orphanage says: "We miss him and want him back."