94 community healthcare workers return to court to appeal conviction

– #BopheloHouse94 appeal has critical implications for the right to protest in South Africa

– Free State Premier Ace Magashule undertakes to join #BopheloHouse94 in the Bloemfontein High Court today at 9am

– Magashule promises the #BopheloHouse94 a response within two weeks

BLOEMFONTEIN, MONDAY 20th JUNE – Today the #BopheloHouse94 will appear before a full bench of the Bloemfontein High Court. The community health workers (CHWs) will appeal their October 2015 convictions in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court for violations of the Regulation of Gatherings Act after they held a peaceful night vigil outside the health MEC Dr Benny Malakoane’s office.  

The case has critical importance for the ability of all people in South Africa to safely exercise their constitutional right to protest. The interpretation of the Regulation of Gatherings Act that led to the convictions threatens the core of the right to protest and, if upheld, will disempower all activists in the Free State and beyond.

The #BopheloHouse94 are CHWs from across the Free State. Many are elderly women. They were arrested in June 2014 at a peaceful night vigil at Bophelo House, the headquarters of the Free State Health Department. They were protesting the collapse of the Free State public healthcare system and the decision of Malakoane to dismiss, without warning or cause, approximately 3 000 CHWs in the province in April 2014. At no time during the vigil did they threaten public safety or damage property. The CHWs simply wanted a meeting with the MEC of Health to address these challenges. Instead they were arrested, incarcerated at the police station and made to travel seven times over two years to spend a total of 14 days in court before being convicted.

SECTION27 and Webbers Attorneys represent the Treatment Action Campaign and the #BopheloHouse94.

– Public dialogue between #BopheloHouse94 and Premier Magashule 

Yesterday – after more than two years – the CHWs were finally given a platform to directly address leaders in the Free State government at a public dialogue organised by the Treatment Action Campaign. Premier Ace Magashule heard testimonies from more than 20 community healthcare workers. Some spoke of the important role of CHWs in the healthcare system, more especially with the lack of doctors and nurses, and the long distances people must travel to busy clinics. Others spoke of the damage to the local community since their dismissal as people were dying without treatment – in particular it was mentioned that people living with HIV were beginning to default on ARVs. Many of the #BopheloHouse94 have continued to care for their patients long after their dismissal. The few with a Matric certificate who have returned to work told of ongoing problems in the healthcare system.

Premier Magashule said “I have listened. In two-weeks time I will give you a clear answer.” He went on to say that they “could have solved these things a long time ago… I’m surprised because I find such humble people… I must appreciate the work you are doing, and that you continue to do.” You can find the full video of his response here.

We welcome Premier Magashule’s comments and his willingness to listen to the #BopheloHouse94 as a small, but important first step. Whether he is willing to take the much larger steps required to turn around the crisis in the Free State public healthcare system remains to be seen. So far he has not taken these steps despite the provincial health crisis having made headlines for years. A key test of the premier’s commitment will be whether or not he is willing to replace MEC Malakoane with a suitably qualified and committed person.

The TAC has previously written an open letter calling for MEC Malakoane to be dismissed before the start of the International AIDS Conference on 18 July 2016 in Durban. In the open letter we explain our reasons for calling for his dismissal. One of the reasons is his gross mismanagement of CHWs in the province – with the persecution of the #BopheloHouse94 being the prime example. The letter can be read here.

For more information and to arrange interviews contact:

Lotti Rutter | 081 818 8493 | lotti.rutter@tac.org.za

Nomatter Ndebele | 072 919 2752 | ndebele@section27.org.za

Background information:

–        Briefing document on the #BopheloHouse94 trial and the community healthcare workers in Free State: tac.org.za/files/%23BopheloHouse94-Briefing.pdf

–        YouTube video of Premier Ace Magashule’s response on Sunday 19th June 2016 after hearing from more than 20 of the #BopheloHouse94: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPZzseCx7bk&feature=youtu.be

–        Open letter to ANC leaders calling for the dismissal of MEC Malakoane before the International AIDS Conference: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-04-20-open-letter-to-the-anc-mec-malakoane-must-go-before-international-aids-conference-in-july#.V2ak25N95p8

Legal documents:

–        The Founding papers in the conditional application: tac.org.za/files/FA—TAC-%26-Tsoaeli-v-Min—conditional-application—FINAL.pdf 

–        Replying papers in the conditional application: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/appellants-replying-affidavit.pdf   

–        The Heads of Argument in the appeal: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/appellants-heads-of-arguments.pdf

–        The first respondent’s Heads of Argument in the conditional application: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/respondents-heads-of-argument.pdf

–       The first respondent’s opposing affidavit: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/first-respondents-opposing-affidavit-a71-2016.pdf 

–        Court transcript of the Magistrate’s Court proceedings in 2015: tac.org.za/files/Tsoaeli-%2B93-Record-2.pdf

–       Particulars of the applicants: tac.org.za/files/2016.03.29—Tsoaeli-FA-Annexure-AY3—particulars-of-second-to-ninety-fifth-applicants—FINAL.pdf

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