Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 18:17 UK

SA doctors march for better pay

A doctor protesting Pretoria, 29 May 2009
Some doctors work up to 36 hours without a break

Hundreds of doctors in South Africa have taken part in marches to demand a 50% pay rise and more government investment in hospitals.

It comes after several weeks of strikes and pickets by medical professionals.

Dressed in white gowns and black armbands, some protesters in Pretoria held up placards reading "Bus drivers earn more than doctors".

Earlier this week, South Africa's economy went into recession for the first time since 1992.

Correspondents say Jacob Zuma, who was inaugurated as president earlier this month, faces pressure from trade unions to live up to his promises to help poor workers.

'Doctor exodus'

The South African Medical Association, which organised the marches in the capital, Pretoria, the port city of Durban and Bisho in the Eastern Cape, says doctors are overworked and underpaid, sometimes working up to 36 hours without a break.

We cannot take it anymore
March co-ordinator Lizzy Kwend

"We are marching to better conditions in the public sector, for you not to be in long queues," Pretoria march co-ordinator Lizzy Kwenda told onlookers, the South African Press Association reports.

She said the doctors on the march - estimated at about 500 in Pretoria - were not neglecting patients.

The black armbands, she said, symbolised the "death" of the health system.

"We cannot take it anymore," she said. "The health system has collapsed."

The doctors in Pretoria marched to the department of health, where they handed over a list of complaints.

"I understand your pain, I am a doctor, and once worked in a hospital; I experience your situation," Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said, adding their concerns were being looked into.

"Give us the time frame, [a] deadline!" the doctors shouted back, Sapa reports.

Earlier, Mpho Mohlala, deputy chairwoman of the United Doctors Forum, warned that patients were not getting basic care.

"We've got an exodus of doctors leaving the country, going to work somewhere overseas, and we've got lots and lots of doctors moving out of the public sector to the private sector," she told the AFP news agency.

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