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Community health workers back in court

Free State healthcare workers say they are being punished for having dared to defy health MEC Benny Malakoane publicly.

The 129 Free State community healthcare workers and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) members arrested in July last year, after staging a protest without permission, are to return to the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Thursday in the hope that the charges against them will be dropped.

The night vigil took place in Bloemfontein on July 10.

Charged with contravening the Regulations of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993, the case was postponed on October 2 2014 to allow them to make formal, written submissions to National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana. They requested that their charges be dropped.

The healthcare workers “believe that they are being punished not for breaking the law but for having publicly dared to defy the MEC”, according to the submission made on November 11.

The TAC wrote in a statement released on Tuesday that the workers “were protesting [against] the state of the public healthcare system in the Free State, their conditions of employment and the June 15 decision of the MEC for the Free State department of health, Benny Malakoane, to effectively terminate their employment without warning”.

Malakoane sent a memo to the nongovernmental organisations that manage Free State community healthcare workers in April last year that ended their contracts and declared the community health workers “ghost workers”.

The healthcare workers have appeared in court three times to date. “For each appearance, they travelled long distances … Most of them are women with families and many are elderly,” said the TAC.

TAC general secretary Anele Yawa said the group was hoping for a favourable outcome.

“Considering our comrades didn’t commit any act of violence, we are hoping that the magistrate will drop the charges. However, we will adhere to whatever the court decides,” he said.

Amy Green was a health reporter at Bhekisisa from 2013 until 2016.