There is convincing evidence that the Free State public healthcare system has been in a state of dysfunction since at least 2009. Most recently the People’s Commission of Inquiry documented this dysfunction in 2015. From 2014 to 2015, the province lost a quarter of its public sector doctors. This followed ‘call-for-help’ letters sent to the national Minister of Health and an open letter published by whistle-blower doctors. The Free State Department of Health responded to the doctors and others who spoke out with victimisation. The so-called #BopheloHouse94 – a group of community healthcare workers – were arrested, prosecuted and convicted after taking part in a peaceful night vigil in June 2014. There convictions were eventually overturned in 2016 in the High Court – setting an important legal precedent regarding the right to protest. Early in October 2016 Benny Malakoane was removed as MEC for Health in the Free State. This follows years of campaigning by TAC against MEC Malakoane’s mismanagement of the healthcare system. Under Malakoane’s watch the province limped from crisis to crisis. Our attempts to work constructively with MEC Malakoane were all rejected. His removal gives new hope of turning the dire situation in the province’s public healthcare system around. It also shows that with sustained and determined activism we can create meaningful accountability that forces political changes.
While it will take time to turn around the crisis in the Free State public healthcare system, we are committed to engaging constructively and doing all we can – including engaging positively with new MEC for Health Butana Komphela.