TAC to Continue Peaceful Night Vigils in Free State

BLOEMFONTEIN, 16th JULY: The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), community healthcare workers and partner organisations, is embarking on peaceful overnight vigils outside the headquarters of the Free State Department of Health on every Wednesday night for the next six weeks. The peaceful vigils will continue until September 1st, when the 127 activists and community healthcare workers who were arrested and held in custody for 36 hours last week will appear in court.

The peaceful night vigils are being held to place the spotlight on the collapse of the Free State healthcare system and the inability of the current provincial leadership to deal with the problem. In recent months we have observed hospitals running out of basic supplies such as surgical gloves, hospitals operating without any heating, and stock-outs of a variety of essential medicines. The ineptitude of the provincial department of health was underlined last Friday when the Mail & Guardian reported that the department’s finances have been taken over by the provincial treasury.

While ambulances are arriving late or not at all, while surgeries are being delayed and while patients are lying in freezing wards and going without essential medicines, the Free State MEC for Health Bennie Malakoane has continued to pretend that nothing is wrong. Rather than dealing with the severe problems in the health system, it seems the Free State government is more interested in intimidating those who dare speak out. We still have received no explanation as to why 127 peaceful protestors were arrested last week. The 127 were released last Friday on warning and the matter has been remanded for further investigation and instructions from the Director of Public Prosecution. The TAC calls for the dropping of all charges against these activists and community healthcare workers.

We reaffirm that we have a right to protest peacefully. We will not allow the Free State government to pretend that there is no problem in the hospitals and clinics of the province. We will remain committed to all who are suffering because of the breakdown in the public healthcare system in the province. We stand in solidarity with community healthcare workers who were unfairly dismissed. We stand in solidarity with those who are not receiving the surgery they should be receiving and with those who are not receiving the medicines they should be receiving. We stand in solidarity with those who sleep in freezing wards, and with doctors and nurses who are expected to work in such inhumane conditions.

We call on all partner organisations and individuals who supported us during the arrests this week to join us in these vigils. The vigils will be peaceful and non-disruptive and will take place with the full knowledge of the authorities.

The TAC is currently gathering further evidence of health system collapse from patients, health workers (doctors and nurses) and community healthcare workers. We urge more nurses and doctors to get in touch with us and to share their experiences. We undertake to do all in our power to protect the identity of whistleblowers and to facilitate legal representation should whistleblowers be persecuted.

Our key demands remain remains as follows:

1.     The release of a clear and comprehensive turn-around plan, with timelines, that details how the Free State health system is to be fixed;

2.     The reinstatement of all recently dismissed Community Healthcare Workers;

3.     The immediate dismissal of the Free State MEC for Health Benny Malokoane.

For more information and to arrange interviews contact:
Lotti Rutter 081 818 8493
Mary-Jane Matsolo 079 802 2686