BLOEMFONTEIN, 29th JANUARY: TAC condemns the National Public Prosecutor’s decision not to drop the unreasonable charges against the 129 community healthcare workers (CHWs) and members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) arrested at a peaceful night vigil on 10th July last year. The 129 appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court today.
We are deeply disappointed that this unjustified abuse of state power to clamp down on peaceful protest will now continue even longer. Not only is it a waste of public resources, it will further solidify the climate of fear faced by whistle-blowers in the Free State. It is also a cruel and inhumane way to treat CHWs who have served their communities over many years and who have not committed any crime.
The 129 have already appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court four times: on 11th July 2014, 1st September 2014, 2nd October 2014 and again today 29th January. They will appear again on March 30th. The majority of the CHWs are unemployed and have little or no money. Most of them are women with families and many are elderly. The CHWs spent many years receiving little and irregular pay and enduring undignified conditions of employment in order to serve some of South Africa’s poorest, most vulnerable communities.
At no point did the 129 pose any threat to public safety. The night vigil in July last year was a peaceful expression of our unhappiness with the dismissal of the community healthcare workers and the wider collapse of the Free State healthcare system. The unjust charges – made on a legal technicality to do with an apartheid era law – we believe were a punishment not for breaking the law but for having publicly dared to defy the MEC of Health, Dr Benny Malakoane.
A settlement the prosecutor offered the 129 today was rejected by 118 and accepted by 11. The settlement amounted to an admission of guilt that “the gathering was illegal” and that they will not partake in any “unauthorised” gathering in the future. Failure to comply with this could amount to the charges being reinstated. The admission of guilt was found by the vast majority of CHWs and TAC members to be unacceptable. TAC salutes the 118 CHWs and TAC members who are refusing to back down in the face of this unjust prosecution.
Peaceful protest is an essential part of a functioning democracy. We consider the state’s harsh response in this case to have been disproportionate in the extreme and counter to the spirit of our Constitution. The arrests come in the context of the intimidation of activists, and a general atmosphere of fear about speaking out about problems in the province’s healthcare system.
For over a year TAC has been raising our concerns over the state of the collapsing healthcare system in the Free State. MEC Malakoane has shown no willingness or commitment to address this crisis. In September TAC laid charges of corruption against the MEC. You can access the charge sheet here. We repeat our call to Premier Ace Magashule to dismiss MEC Malakoane and to appoint an appropriately qualified and committed person in his place.
In a separate matter MEC Malakoane appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on August 27th on charges of fraud and corruption relating to his time as Matjhabeng Municipal Manager. He will be appearing in court again in February 2015.
For more information and to arrange interviews contact:
Lotti Rutter // 081 818 8493 // firstname.lastname@example.org
– Learn more about the 129 courageous women and men who spoke out about the healthcare system in the Free State:
o The Henneman 5: http://on.fb.me/1y98LpU
– On November 11th last year the TAC sent representations to the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Mxolisi Nxasana, requesting him to drop the case against the 129. We didn’t hear back from his office until yesterday. We are deeply disappointed that our request was turned down and that the unjust persecution of the 129 continues.
– The representations sent to the NDPP are available here: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/letter20to20ndpp.pdf
– The response from the NDPP is available here: tac.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ndpp20response.pdf
– On 1st September TAC laid corruption charges against the MEC of Health, Dr Benny Malakoane. The full charge sheet can be downloaded at this link: tac.org.za/news/tac-charges-mec-benny-malakoane-corruption-1