Update on Free State Campaign

On September 1st the 127 community healthcare workers and activists who were arrested during a peaceful night vigil on 10 July 2014 will appear in court in Bloemfontein. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and partner organisations are planning a number of events in the run-up to September 1st and on the day itself. Below is a summary of our strategy and plans for this period.

These plans are part of our longer term campaign to bring an end to the ongoing crisis in the Free State healthcare system. We continue to gather evidence and testimonies from healthcare workers and users of the public healthcare system in the province. We are also building alliances with a number of other organisations. This struggle is not about TAC or about any other organisation, it is about getting the Free State government to respond effectively to the crisis in the provincial healthcare system. When we call for MEC for Health Benny Malakoane to be fired, it is because he is unwilling to respond constructively to the crisis and because he is facing serious charges of corruption. We would prefer to work with government where possible, but in the Free State the government’s denialism and ineptitude is an integral part of the problem and no meaningful progress can be made without addressing this problem.

1. The court appearance of the 127 CHWs

SECTION27 is providing legal support to the 127 community healthcare workers. This includes providing information to help CHWs make informed decisions on whether or not to admit guilt and on what terms. Negotiations with the prosecutor are currently underway.

The 127 CHWs will meet in Bloemfontein on 31 August. After their meeting they will be joined by other TAC activists and partner organisations for a night vigil. The vigil will draw attention to the ongoing collapse of the Free State healthcare system.

On the morning of 1 September the whole group will march to the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s court where the 127 CHWs will be asked to plea – if charges are not dropped.

2. Plans to charge MEC Malakoane

While TAC and others have raised the alarm about the crisis in the Free State healthcare system, MEC for Health Benny Malakoane has denied the extent of the collapse. He has also failed to respond to requests from TAC to meet with him. Rather than engaging with civil society, he has chosen to intimidate those who dare speak out.

On August 27 Malakoane will appear in court in Bloemfontein on multiple serious charges of corruption and fraud relating to his period as municipal manager of Matjhabeng municipality. TAC members will attend Malakoane’s court appearance. We repeat our call for Free State Premier Ace Mashagule to dismiss Malakoane.

In parallel to the above, TAC is planning to lay new charges against the MEC on September 1st after the court appearance of the 127 CHWs. The charges have not been finalised and we cannot disclose details of the charges at this point. We will share the charges with media closer to the time.

3. Report of partners meeting

On Monday August 19 representatives of 21 organisations attended a TAC partners meeting in Johannesburg. The meeting was briefed on the dire situation in the Free State and the Eastern Cape and on TAC’s ongoing work to amend South Africa’s patent laws.

4. Release of Stop Stockouts Project (SSP) report into the Free State

On 8 August the SSP published a new report into the state of the Free State healthcare system. The SSP is a joint project of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, Doctors without Borders (MSF), the Rural Health Advocacy Project, Rural Doctors Association of South Africa, SECTION27 and TAC. The report confirmed that stockouts of essential medicines are continuing in the Free State and that the crisis in the provincial health system is ongoing. The report can be downloaded here.

5. Ongoing investigation

As noted in a previous media statement, Mr Tefo Tabi of the secretariat of the Free State Provincial AIDS Council has made allegations of corruption against TAC leaders in the Free State. While we are suspicious about the timing of these allegations, we take all such allegations very seriously. The matter is currently being investigated by an independent party and we will openly report on the findings when available.

For media comment please contact TAC General Secretary, Anele Yawa, on 079 328 1215