Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) welcomes the release of the 127 community healthcare workers and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) activists who were arrested during a vigil and peaceful sit-in at the head office of the Free State’s Health Department on Thursday, 9 July 2014.
The sit-in was staged after health workers failed to gain an audience with Free State Health Minister Benny Malakoane to discuss the collapsing health system in the Free State, including drug stock outs, ambulances, and staff shortages.
Activists claim harsh treatment by the police during detention, and Sonke demands an immediate inquiry by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) into the arrest of these peaceful protestors who were detained for 36 hours.
The TAC reports that “the activists and community healthcare workers were detained unnecessarily in harsh conditions with limited access to food and in need of critical medication for various conditions such as HIV, TB, diabetes and hypertension. Those arrested included many middle-aged and elderly women workers who have served the health service for many years.”
Sonke stands in solidarity with the community healthcare workers and applauds the TAC for its part in fostering critical reforms in healthcare. Community healthcare workers are essential to ensuring that citizens receive proper treatment and medication on a grassroots level where other forms of healthcare infrastructure have collapsed. The arrest of these workers highlights a flagrant lack of respect for the critical work they do.
“The increasing use of police force to squelch South Africans’ free speech is unacceptable, unconstitutional and contrary to the fabric of South Africa’s democracy,” says Rukia Cornelius, Community Education and Mobilisation Manager at Sonke, “The government should be in partnership with grassroots organisations and citizens seeking to improve access to healthcare, and not in opposition to them. This failure to engage with citizens about critical service delivery issues creates a need to take these issues to the courts instead, and prolongs the process of ensuring public access to critical and life-saving health services and treatments.”
Sonke calls upon the government to hold those responsible for the arrests accountable for their actions. As citizens play a vital role in social change, their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful protest must be respected.
South Africans deserve a working health care system that meets their needs. Access to quality health care services plays a vital role in promoting the equitable, healthy relationships that are the centrepiece of Sonke’s work, and which are enshrined in Chapter 2, Section 27 of South Africa’s Constitution and Bill of Rights which calls for the universal right to health services.
Sonke Gender Justice, Community Education and Mobilisation Manager