South African army deployed to provincial hospital after protests

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa has deployed troops to look after patients at a hospital in its troubled North West province after staff went on strike over corruption and a collapsing health care system that they blame on the provincial premier.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure to fire North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, a senior member of Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), amid accusations of corruption in the awarding of tenders in the province and violent protests over the poor state of local healthcare.

Mahumapelo denies any wrongdoing and has refused to quit.

Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s president in February, needs to secure the backing of top ANC officials before he can fire Mahumapelo, a Zuma loyalist.

Ramaphosa has staked his reputation on tackling the corruption and mismanagement associated with Zuma’s nine years in power.

The military said in a statement on Friday it had been caring for inpatients and outpatients at the Mahikeng Provincial Hospital because of the strike.

A team of ministers appointed by Ramaphosa visited the same hospital on Friday to prepare a report for the cabinet.

Protests over a lack of jobs and poor government services regularly erupt in South Africa, but those that have erupted in the North West are among the first signs of unrest since Ramaphosa took charge.

Similar protests have broken out in other parts of the country this week, including in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Senior ANC officials discussed Mahumapelo’s future at a meeting on Wednesday. Ramaphosa told Mahumapelo on Thursday to resign or lose his job, the Mail & Guardian newspaper cited sources as saying.

ANC spokesman Pule Mabe did not return calls seeking comment.

Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by James Macharia and Gareth Jones