The Health & Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is calling for the acquittal of Community Health Workers (CHWs).  The Union argues that their arrest, imprisonment and further prosecution were unlawful and it appealed to senior government officials to drop the charges and acquit the workers.  The appeal hearing is taking place today at the Bloemfontein High Court.

In April of 2014 Free State Health MEC Benny Malakoane summarily dismissed all the CHWs in the Free State.  This left around 3800 people without jobs and thousands of needy patients without care.  A group of these workers then gathered to protest against their unfair dismissal, but the MEC refused their reasonable requests to gather in peaceful protest.  In July 2014 more than a hundred workers, most of them elderly women, were arrested at a peaceful vigil in front of Bophelo House, the headquarters of the provincial health department.  They spent 36 hours in cells where some of them were even denied access to chronic medication.  Since then, the CHWs have returned to court seven times.

“Hospersa is calling upon Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as our honourable Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to intervene in this matter.  We would like to see the leadership take a public stand on this matter and declare the charges null and void,” said Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines.  “This is truly a case of injustice.  At no point did the vigil in Bloemfontein pose any threat to the public and it was peaceful and organised at all times,” added Desfontaines.

The workers were charged with violating the Regulation of Gatherings Act.  This legislation hails from the apartheid era and is viewed by many as archaic, harsh and even against the core principles of a constitutional democracy.  For this reason it is currently being challenged at the Constitutional Court, as it is believed to be out of sync with the Constitution.

“We are in full support of these workers,” said Desfontaines.  “According to the Department [of Health] itself these workers are at the centre of primary healthcare.  They look after the poorest and most vulnerable people in Africa and they do this for very little money.  Now they are being bullied and treated unfairly by the Free State government,” he said. 

“It is actually quite ironic that these people were jailed when just last year President [Jacob] Zuma said that it is people’s democratic right to protest.  One has to just switch on the TV or radio to hear about some protest action taking place somewhere in our country.  In actual fact, it seems that protest has become the only way to get government to listen in South Africa,” argued Desfontaines.

According to the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) data compiled from media reports between January 2013 and December 2015 indicated that there were approximately “3 protests and labour strikes a day”.  This was in reaction to claims by opposition parties that there were up to 30 protests per day.  This was being studied by Africa Check, and subsequently refuted in favour of the above statistic of three instances per day.

“We therefore find it suspicious that these workers were being victimised for exercising their democratic right to protest, when numerous other protests take place without any arrests or charges being filed.  The situation becomes even worse when you realise that all of these workers are female.  Bullying and harassing women may constitute a form of gender-based violence, and Hospersa is constantly campaigning against these practices in our society.  We will not rest until they are acquitted and allowed to return to the important work of providing quality healthcare to the disadvantaged,” said Desfontaines.

Earlier this month Hospersa met with Section 27 who is dealing providing legal support to the workers.  The Union discussed the strategy going forward and also pledged its support to the campaign to dismiss the charges.  The Union is organising the workers for the sake of protecting their rights and advancing their interests going forward.


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For more information please contact Hospersa Spokesperson Chumisa Mangaliso on 031-765-4625 or 060-546-8166.

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