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Free State workers demonstrate over health crisis

The TAC says it fears the arrest of over 50 community healthcare workers after they began a sit-in at the province’s health department headquarters.

Over 50 community healthcare workers from Bloemfontein are currently staging a sit-in within Bophelo House – the headquarters of the Free State health department – in frustration over the on-going crisis in the provincial health system, according to the HIV advocacy group, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

“A demonstration was held throughout the night to highlight the urgent need for action to address the collapsing health system and in particular draw attention to the non-payment and uncertain employment status of community healthcare workers in the province,” a TAC press release said.

According to the TAC, health MEC Benny Malakoane sent a circular to all community healthcare workers in April terminating their contracts claiming they were ghost workers. Following this, department head sent a second circular stating that their services should not be stopped. The provincial department are currently allowing non-governmental organisations to manage the payment of the community healthcare workers.

“As of now the community healthcare workers taking action have not been paid their R1 500 stipend for the last two months and have received no information regarding the reasons for this. They do not wish to be paid via an non-governmental organisation and are demanding to be absorbed back into the health system,” the TAC said.

A partner’s meeting had been called by the TAC to address the crisis facing the Free State health system but this meeting has been cancelled and all partners will be joining the protesters at Bophelo House. 

“As it stands, no one from the provincial department of health has spoken to the demonstrators and the MEC and head of department are unavailable. The police have arrived at the scene and there are concerns arrests will take place. This is a peaceful sit in and we urge the South African Police Service to use restrain,” the TAC said.

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.