Arrested healthcare workers to plead not guilty: Matter heading to trial

Yesterday, lawyers from Webber Attorneys in Bloemfontein and SECTION27 met with the 130 community healthcare workers (CHWs) who were arrested during a peaceful night vigil on 10 July 2014. The CHWs were briefed on their options prior to a court appearance scheduled for today.
 
The CHWs agreed to explore a proposed settlement made by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as a means of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). Such a settlement had already been proposed by the DPP and would essentially involve a conditional acknowledgement of taking part in an “illegal gathering”. What was at stake was on what terms the CHWs would consider such an acknowledgment. The CHWs agreed on a set of terms they would agree to.
 
This morning the TAC, CHWs and the legal representatives of the CHWs met initially with the DPP and the Provincial Commissioner of Police; later they also met legal representatives of the Free State Department of Health. The two sides could not come to an agreement. On legal advice we have decided not to publish the details of the failed negotiations at this time.  
 
The CHWs almost unanimously (all but one) rejected the DPP’s proposed settlement agreement and instructed their lawyers to inform the DPP that they will plead not guilty to a charge of “attending a prohibited gathering”. Accordingly the matter has been postponed until 2 October 2014 when a date will be set for trial.
 
TAC and CHWs are now consulting lawyers about our defence against the charges. We will not allow the Free State government to misuse the law to intimidate its critics and to curtail our right to peaceful protest. We restate our demands for the reinstatement of all dismissed CHWs on proper contracts and in dignified conditions of employment where they can play their role in ensuring the right of everyone to access healthcare services, as promised by the Constitution.
 
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Lotti Rutter on 081 818 8493
Mary-Jane Matsolo on 079 802 2686
Anele Yawa on 079 328 1215