Posted on December 2, 2004

Bad Blood About Black Donors

Sonja Carstens,, Dec. 2

Pretoria – If you are black or Coloured, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) does not want your blood.

This came to light in a ruling by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in a case between the SANBS and the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) over the unfair dismissal of a union member.

Poppie Bereng, a nurse, was dismissed because she opposed the SANBS’s policy not to use the blood of black or Coloured donors, no matter how long they have been donating blood, because they are considered to be too much of a risk. Their blood is instead incinerated or destroyed in another manner.

The CCMA said Bereng, who is black, had conscientious objections to the policy as a Christian and she was upset because she had to lie to black donors who believed their blood was being used to save the lives of others. Bereng worked on a contract basis for the SANBS before she was given a permanent appointment on July 5.

On July 16, she attended an urgent staff meeting where the shortage of blood was discussed.

At the meeting, one of her colleagues asked whether high-risk donors in category 3 and 4 could be recruited.

It was explained to Bereng that category 3 and 4 donors were black and

Coloured donors respectively whose blood was not used.

Bereng testified that she was “shocked” and wanted clarity on the policy before signing her service contract. She was not prepared to remain in the service of an employer who supported a “discriminatory policy”.

Services terminated

After another meeting, Bereng was given until August 2 to sign the contract. She received a letter the next day that her service had been terminated. Commissioner Thamsanga Garry Mvumbi found that Bereng’s demands were not unreasonable under the Constitution.

“I find the allegations that the policy – to discriminate against blacks because of their skin colour – was approved by the World Health Organisation frightening and baseless. I cannot believe that the minister of health would allow such a policy to exist in a democratic country,” Mvumbi said.

He ordered the SANBS to re-employ Bereng and pay out R46 662 as six months of her salary.

Hospersa applied to the CCMA for an attachment order after the SANBS

re-employed Bereng but did not pay out the money. This application has not been heard. The SANBS has taken the CCMA ruling under review.

On the SANBS’s donor form, the donor has to indicate his or her ethnic group “for statistical purposes”.