The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has reported that more than 100 community health workers have been arrested in Bloemfontein on Thursday morning for staging an overnight sit-in at the health department.

The community health workers and TAC members, who consisted primarily of middle-aged and elderly women, took part in the sit-in in an attempt to speak out against the failings in and collapse of the Free State health system. The protesters were demanding the removal of Health MEC, Benny Malakoane, from his position, as well as challenging the termination of their contracts and demanding that they be paid R3,500 after deductions instead of the R1,400 they are currently receiving.

TAC General Secretary, Anele Yawa, said: “The sit-in signals the start of a campaign of civil disobedience in the Free State,” and went on to say that “TAC condemns the police for the excessive use of force in arresting the peaceful protesters.”

The arrested protestors are expected to appear today before the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court  on charges of participating in illegal gatherings. They are also expected to apply for bail.

The TAC is calling for the charges against the protestors to be dropped, which has been backed by numerous organisations that include Amnesty International, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

This was the second recent overnight sit-in held by the health workers; on June 26th they were demanding clarity from Malakoane after he reportedly suggested that health workers without matric would need to obtain matric certificates before re-joining the healthcare programme. He also allegedly stated that those who were over the age of 50 would need to retire.

TAC Free State chairman, Sello Mokhalipi, said community health workers were trained in basic health care skills, provided home based care, counselling to patients and helped them take their medication.

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