The health services delivery journey of the Witzenberg community continues, but is progress being made?

March 6, 2023

The Witzenberg valley is famous for its exports of fruit, vegetables, olives, and grain: all the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle. But its health services remain a source of ongoing concern for residents, who regularly complain about long waiting periods and quality of care.

The Witzenberg valley is famous for its exports of fruit, vegetables, olives, and grain: all the ingredients for a healthy lifestyle. But its health services remain a source of ongoing concern for residents, who regularly complain about long waiting periods and quality of care. It’s a problem that has been taken up by action group the Witzenberg Justice Coalition (WJC), which is using data gathered by Codebridge Youth members to put pressure on the local authorities for change.

The difficulties residents face have been well documented. Over two years ago, IOL published an article reporting on local frustrations and Witzenberg residents’ demands for change in management at Ceres Provincial Hospital. In March 2022, The Daily Maverick wrote about the struggle to access quality health care services, staff shortages, limited bed capacity, and long waiting periods at the same hospital. According to a WJC representative, “ Despite the Western Cape Department of Health having a clean audit, Witzenberg community has five ambulances, patients are still sleeping on chairs at Ceres Provincial Hospital and they do not have enough doctors. Op Die Berg is 52 Kilometres outside Ceres, the doctor visits them once a week.”

Taking all this into account, it came as no shock when, during a Codebridge Youth Data Literacy workshop for local youth hosted by OpenUp in partnership with WJC, attendees identified basic and health services as amongst the key challenges faced by the community that they wanted to address using data. 

Through the Codebridge Youth Data Literacy Project, OpenUp works with young people around the country to teach digital skills alongside data skills centred around data collection, analysis, and storytelling. In doing so, it aims to empower them to tell accurate, engaging stories about their experiences, and motivate for positive change using new online data tools. Coupled with this, OpenUp also teaches youth about the very important responsibility they have in local government citizen participation processes.  

Above: Witzenberg youth on the ground collecting data in their community. 

Attendees of the workshop wanted to learn more about the common experiences of locals when accessing healthcare, and use data to highlight the most serious challenges. To this end, they created a series of survey questions and went into the towns of Ceres, Op die Berg, Hamlet, Tulbagh, and Wolseley to talk to residents and collect data. In total, the volunteers collected 231 responses.

Who participated in the survey?

Survey respondents by sex and place of residence.

Out of a total of 231 responses, 150 people identified as female and 76 as male. Data from the 2016 Community Survey by StatsSA suggests that the population of Witzenberg is almost exactly half male and half female, raising the question of whether or not females use healthcare services more than males? 

A similar issue is found when we look at age distribution. Although the Community Survey suggests most residents are under the age of 29, the majority of respondents are over the age of 30.

Age and sex of survey respondents.

It’s important to note, however, that these two findings may simply be related to the time of day surveys were carried out. It’s possible that many younger people were at work or otherwise unavailable at the time. This may also be why 59% of respondents also reported being unemployed. 84% of the respondents are not on medical aid and most of the areas have public clinics and hospitals.  56% of the respondents visit the hospital and 30% visit the clinic while others don’t visit the hospital nor the clinic.  

What did respondents say about healthcare in Witzenberg?

The average waiting time to see a nurse was two hours and forty-six minutes. 53% of the participants indicated that they waited in lines outside the clinic for between 2-4 hours to be assessed by a nurse or medical official. More than half said that they have fallen asleep while waiting. Eight out of ten said that they had waited outside a clinic taking into account that very few clinics have shade or covering from rain for queueing patients

Estimated waiting times and how many people reported them.

Data showed that in terms of the first process of admission to the health facility, being assessed by a nursing professional, taking over 2 hours, 40% of participants indicate that they waited another 2-4 hours to then be seen by a doctor.

When asked why they experienced long wait times, many pointed to issues with staff being either unhelpful or short on the ground. A further 80 people said that they didn’t know why they had been waiting.

Reasons for waiting and number of respondents reporting.

Interestingly, few reported loadshedding as the reason for the long wait at the clinic or hospital.

The community was also asked about ambulance services, and most participants  indicated that they call an ambulance when they need to be taken to hospital. There are participants that waited between 4-12 hours to get an ambulance. 

Despite these challenges, however, participants seemed happy with the healthcare they received once attended and recognised that health workers are doing their best in difficult circumstances. Two thirds of the respondents said yes to the question of “is healthcare good?” with only a third saying no. 

Where are we now:

  • The WJC has taken the service delivery challenge forward by lobbying for additional services from the Western Cape department of health. WJC had numerous meetings with the Western Cape department of health and acquired additional ambulance services, a doctor, and beds.
  • The DOH management team, Dr Elton Titus and Mr Wawini started engaging with Witzenberg grassroots communities to discuss problems at all clinics and the main hospital after a reported incident at a clinic. 
  • The community from Op Die Berg handed over demands to the Western Cape Department of Health on 14 October 2022, some of the demands include a 24 hours ambulance at the Clinic and more doctors. On 25 October they were informed that they will not get.  
  • On 05 November 2022, health activists gathered with a young academic from Ceres and a medical practitioner to explain the TRIAGE SYSTEM  being used at Ceres Provincial Hospital and others.

Interested in supporting and assisting the Witzenberg community solve the health services challenges? Please contact Witzenberg Justice Coalition at

Want to join or partner with OpenUp and be part of the Codebridge youth community please contact Adrian Kearns at

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