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Under police escort, South African ambulances brave attacks

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A South African Police Services van seen through the window of the ambulance driving in the gang-ridden suburb of Manenberg in Cape Town on April 14, 2017. A surge in attacks on ambulance workers has led to parts of Cape Town being declared danger "red zones". PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP

Posted  Friday, May 19   2017 at  13:30

In Summary

  • Robbery, theft, vandalism, violence, at times linked to criminal gangs — more than 100 attacks against paramedics and drivers were reported in the Western Cape province last year.
  • The stoning of vehicles is a frequent hijacking ploy and medics are not spared.
  • Armed police protection for ambulances during night time call-outs was introduced last year but workers told AFP they still do not feel any safer.

When an emergency call comes in from one of South Africa's most crime-ridden neighbourhoods, ambulances do not rush straight to the scene but to a police station first to request an armed escort.

A surge in attacks on ambulance workers has led to parts of Cape Town being declared danger "red zones" but beefing up security means delayed response times in some of the poorest districts.

Robbery, theft, vandalism, violence, at times linked to criminal gangs — more than 100 attacks against paramedics and drivers were reported in the Western Cape province last year.

Patricia September and her colleague, both ambulance workers, were driving on a road bordering one of the red zones in the early morning hours when two gunshots rang out.

A brick hit the windscreen, causing her colleague to battle to control the ambulance from rolling, she recalled.

"The whole ambulance was shaking," 51-year-old September told AFP.

The stoning of vehicles is a frequent hijacking ploy and medics are not spared.

Caught in shoot-outs

Armed police protection for ambulances during night time call-outs was introduced last year but workers told AFP they still do not feel any safer.

Sometimes the police escort can even make matters worse.

More than once, September, a single mother of twins, has been caught up in shoot-outs between gang members and the police, who are targeted for their weapons.

"When they start shooting at the police, you can actually see the fear on the officers' faces," she said.

September, who has 15 years' experience under her belt, pulls the ambulance into a derelict cul-de-sac to collect a patient in one of the red zones.

The police park just ahead. But nobody leaves their vehicles.

Paramedics Patricia September (left) and

Paramedics Patricia September (left) and Simphiwe Ngavu drive in their ambulance to attend to a call in the gang-ridden suburb of Manenerg, behind a South African police van, which is escorting them, on April 14, 2017, in Cape Town. The has been more than 100 attacks against paramedics and drivers reported in the Western Cape province. PHOTO | AFP

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