Intimidation and death threats of activists must end now!
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is deeply concerned with the quality of healthcare services and leadership in the Free State.
In 2013 we received frequent reports of medicine stockouts and poor conditions at clinics and hospitals in the Free State. In order to get a clearer picture of medicines stockouts across the province and country TAC was one of the partners that established the Stop Stockouts Project (SSP) in 2013.
A carefully researched report released by the SSP on November 28 2013 indicated that when it came to stock-outs of essential medicines the Free State was hardest hit. 191 health facilities in the province were contacted by the SSP and 167 responded to questions - of these 53.9% reported shortages of antiretrovirals or tuberculosis medicines. Three of the five worst affected health districts in the country are in the Free State.
The SSP report suggests serious mismanagement of the provincial health system that is causing preventable disease, pain and loss of life.
Dysfunction in the Free State health system is unfortunately nothing new. In 2008 TAC was at the forefront of drawing to public attention the moratorium on providing ARVs that eventually cost thousands of lives. Recently the Auditor General reported that the Free State Department of Health spent R3.61 billion on consultants in the financial years 2008/2009 to 2010/2011.
It is therefore concerning that MEC Benny Malokoane, the person tasked with fixing the Free State public health system, is himself currently facing serious corruption charges. Malokoane appeared in the District Magistrate’s court in Welkom in November last year. When Malokoane was arrested in July last year the Free State Premier Ace Magashule did not heed calls to suspend him. At the time the ANC’s Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, said that he would have to answer questions before the ANC’s Integrity Commission. We are not aware if that has happened. Malokoane will be back in court on February 28.
We are also concerned by the MEC’s failure to respond and clarify recent events surrounding the intimidation of TAC leaders and the dismissal of TAC’s chairperson in the province from his employment by the Secretariat of the Provincial AIDS council. TAC’s national General Secretary Vuyiseka Dubula wrote to Malokoane on January 26 to request an urgent meeting to discuss the intimidation of TAC leaders in the province. Malokoane has not responded to her letter.
The allegations of intimidation faced by TAC leaders are described in detail in a recent article in the Daily Maverick.
The request that TAC’s General Secretary sent to Malokoane on January 26 was an honest request to meet with the MEC in order to hear his version of these events. His refusal to engage with TAC brings into question his commitment to openness and acountability.
TAC has also raised the intimidation of Sello Mokhalipi, TAC’s provincial chairperson in the Free State, with health minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, deputy president and chair of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), Kgalema Motlanthe, and the leader of civil society in SANAC, Steve Letsike. To the best of our knowledge none of these people has acted.
As a result TAC has set up a Citizen’s Commission of prominent individuals to investigate the dismissal of Mokhalipi and the threats against him. Zwelinzima Vavi, the Reverend Paul Verryn and Vuyiseka Dubula have agreed to serve on this citizen’s commission. Other commission members will be confirmed shortly.
In addition, in March 2014 TAC, together with partner organisations and allies, will organize a mass demonstration to put the spotlight on the severe health problems in the Free State. We will also make it clear that we will not yield to intimidation and evasion. Those who courageously speak out about problems in the health system must be encouraged, not intimidated. Ultimately this is not about Mr Mokhalipi or TAC, but about the constitutional right of access to healthcare for all who live in the Free State.
The TAC, together with our partners in the SSP, will also continue to monitor the ongoing problem of stock-outs of essential medicines in Free State clinics and hospitals. Our intention is not to embarrass the provincial leadership, but to provide reliable information about the realities faced by hundreds of thousands of people in the province.
- We call on MEC Malokoane not to respond with evasion or intimidation, but to engage with the substance of our reports and to accept our request for a meeting.
- We call on Premier Magashule to suspend MEC Malokoane pending the outcome of court proceedings relating to his alleged involvement in corruption.
- We call on the South African National AIDS Council to urgently intervene in the Free State to defend the AIDS Council there from attack and to stand up for the rights of health activists.
- Anele Yawa, TAC National Chairperson, 073 555 8849
- Vuyiseka Dubula, TAC National General Secretary,082 763 3005