Taking the stand: Meet the TAC members, community health workers on trial in the Free State

Taking the stand: Meet the TAC members, community health workers on trial in the Free State

As 129 Free State community healthcare workers and Treatment Action Campaign (TACT members are due back in court on charges related to July 2014 protests, we take a look at the faces and stories of those on trial.

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Protesters march to the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court ahead of a previous court appearence
Protesters march to the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court ahead of a previous court appearence

On 10 July 2014, police arrested more than 100 community healthcare workers and Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) members following what the TAC maintains was a peaceful demonstration outside the Free State Department of Health.

The gathering was in protest of the allegedly poor state of provincial health services and the sudden dismissal of community health workers following a decision by MEC for the Free State Department of Health Benny Malakoane.

Today, 129 TAC members and community health workers are set to appear again in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court for the third time on charges of contravening the Regulations of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993.

The Cape Town-based Social Justice Coalition intends to challenge the Act’s Constitutionality, saying that the Apartheod-era legislation prevents people from engaging in legitimate forms of protest.

As the TAC calls on the National Director of Public Prosecutions to drop charges against TAC members and community healthcare workers, we take a look at faces and stories of some of those on trial.

Photographs and captions courtesy of the TAC

Dimakatso Tsiane, 64  Home-based caregiver for people living with cancer  “We started off as just a group of women who wanted to help people who were sick and didn’t receive social grants. We helped take their children to school and we delivered food parcels to them. As a home-based caregiver, I would educate people about cancer, deliver medication…and bath those who were bedridden. I would also track (treatment) defaulters and encourage them to go back on treatment.  “I had a patient who would stand at the clinic gate every day and would only enter when he saw me. He wouldn’t allow the nurses to touch him if I wasn’t with him.  “Then we were told that we had to stop working. We were devastated for our patients. Now I survive on a pension grant”. After 14 years as a Free State home-based caregiver, Tsiane was dismissed without warning or cause on 16 April 2014.
Dimakatso Tsiane, 64
Home-based caregiver for people living with cancer
“We started off as just a group of women who wanted to help people who were sick and didn’t receive social grants. We helped take their children to school and we delivered food parcels to them. As a home-based caregiver, I would educate people about cancer, deliver medication…and bath those who were bedridden. I had a patient who would stand at the clinic gate every day and would only enter when he saw me. He wouldn’t allow the nurses to touch him if I wasn’t with him. Then we were told that we had to stop working. We were devastated for our patients. Now I survive on a pension grant”.
After 14 years as a Free State home-based caregiver, Tsiane was dismissed without warning or cause on 16 April 2014. 

 

Mantwa Medupe, 43  13 years as a community healthcare worker “The love I have for helping people that are sick motivated me to become a community healthcare worker. Every day, I went into people’s homes, bathed them and gave them their medication. I loved all my patients and I got along with most of them, although some were harder—some were even violent.  “The department terminated our contracts, and the patients have been suffering ever since. I live with seven children— I don’t have parents and my husband died long ago. We survive on child support grants now. It’s never enough”.
Mantwa Medupe, 43
13 years as a community healthcare worker
“The love I have for helping people that are sick motivated me to become a community healthcare worker. Every day, I went into people’s homes, and bathed them and gave them their medication. I loved all my patients and I got along with most of them, although some were harder—some were even violent. The department terminated our contracts, and the patients have been suffering ever since. I live with seven children— I don’t have parents and my husband died long ago. We survive on child support grants now. It’s never enough.”
Mamahlape Mogotsi  Chairperson of TAC’s Thaba-nchu branch in the Free State “I became a TAC member because there were so many people that I knew who defaulted on treatment and became sick. Sometimes, nurses would be rude to people, and then the people wouldn’t want to use the clinic and they would default. Stockouts of treatment are also a major problem in my area. Without community healthcare workers, a lot of sick people are left stranded with no one to care for them. That is why I had to support their struggle and ended up in jail with them.”
Mamahlape Mogotsi
Chairperson of TAC’s Thaba-nchu branch in the Free State
“I became a TAC member because there were so many people that I knew who defaulted on treatment and became sick. Sometimes, nurses would be rude to people, and then the people wouldn’t want to use the clinic and they would default. Stockouts of treatment are also a major problem in my area. Without community healthcare workers, a lot of sick people are left stranded with no one to care for them. That is why I had to support their struggle and ended up in jail with them.”
Suping Tsotong, 32  10 year as an HIV counsellor “I became an HIV counsellor because I wanted to encourage people with HIV and to help them understand that HIV isn’t a death sentence.  “There was one man who came to me devastated because he’d found out he had HIV. There was a razor on the table (and) he wanted to use it to kill himself. He was convinced he was dying anyway.  “I managed to calm him down and gave him counselling. He later came with his wife to talk to me about protection and treatment. He wanted to live a long (life).  I was an HIV counsellor for ten years and never got promoted. Then the (clinic) sister told us that our services were no longer needed. We have two kids and survive on one salary now. My partner is very supportive, but the debts and feeding the kids are taking their toll”.
Suping Tsotong, 32
10 year as an HIV counsellor
“I became an HIV counsellor because I wanted to encourage people with HIV and to help them understand that HIV isn’t a death sentence. There was one man who came to me devastated because he’d found out he had HIV. There was a razor on the table (and) he wanted to use it to kill himself. He was convinced he was dying anyway. “I managed to calm him down and gave him counselling. He later came with his wife to talk to me about protection and treatment. I was an HIV counsellor for ten years and never got promoted. Then the (clinic) sister told us that our services were no longer needed. We have two kids and survive on one salary now…. the debts and feeding the kids are taking their toll”.
Sellwane Shuping, 37  3 years as a TAC member and volunteer caregiver “Through the TAC, I volunteer at a care centre for disabled children. We cook, wash and clean for them. We give treatment to those who need it. I was arrested during a peaceful vigil in protest of the poor state of healthcare services in the Free State. The night of our arrest was stressful because I was worried about my house and children. I was scared that something terrible was going to happen to them especially because there are many break-ins in my area.”
Sellwane Shuping, 37
3 years as a TAC member and volunteer caregiver
“Through the TAC, I volunteer at a care centre for disabled children. We cook, wash and clean for them. We give treatment to those who need it. I was arrested during a peaceful vigil in protest of the poor state of healthcare services in the Free State. The night of our arrest was stressful because I was worried about my house and children. I was scared that something terrible was going to happen to them especially because there are many break-ins in my area.”
Matsediso Monaheng, 43  13 years as an HIV counsellor  “My cousin had HIV but couldn’t accept it. I was inspired to change people’s stereotypes about HIV so I became a counsellor. I did tested and counselled patients. I would also facilitate the treatment readiness classes (patients needed to take before starting treatment). I traced people who went off their treatment. We often had to do things like clean the clinic, and work with people with tuberculosis even though that wasn’t technically part of our job.  “I learned we’d been dismissed from people on the street. Later, I checked my email and found out it was true. I’m a single mother and now we survive on a child support grant of R300.”
Matsediso Monaheng, 43
13 years as an HIV counsellor
“My cousin had HIV but couldn’t accept it. I was inspired to change people’s stereotypes about HIV so I became an (HIV testing) counsellor. I also facilitated treatment readiness classes (patients needed to take before starting treatment). We often had to do things like clean the clinic, and work with people with tuberculosis even though that wasn’t technically part of our job. I learned we’d been dismissed from people on the street. Later, I checked my email and found out it was true. I’m a single mother and now we survive on a child support grant of R300.”
Puleng Tshabangu, 45 13 years as a counsellor at Phomolong Clinic about 180 kms north of Bloemfontein  “I saw people were suffering and in need so I decided to fill in the gap. As a counsellor, I would facilitate health talks, do HIV testing and counselling, assist nurses at the clinic with antiretroviral (patient) files and trace defaulters. We were constantly promised permanent positions at work.  “Then the sister in charge showed us the letter terminating our employment.  “Life has been difficult after losing my job. I was the only breadwinner and one of my daughters is in university and the other is doing grade 11. We are basically living of my mother’s old age social grant. Patients still come to my home to ask for help”.
Puleng Tshabangu, 45
13 years as a counsellor at Phomolong Clinic about 180 kms north of Bloemfontein
“I saw people were suffering and in need so I decided to fill in the gap. As a counsellor, I would facilitate health talks, do HIV testing and counselling, assist nurses at the clinic with antiretroviral (patient) files and trace defaulters. We were constantly promised permanent positions at work. Then the sister in charge showed us the letter terminating our employment. Life has been difficult after losing my job. I was the only breadwinner and one of my daughters is in university… We are basically living of my mother’s old age social grant. Patients still come to my home to ask for help”.
Grace Matlhoko, 48 11 years working with disabled children at Kimberley's  Bettie Gaitsiwe Clinic  "I have a great passion for (my) job. It makes me feel complete and I really want to help those who need (it). I wasn't a community healthcare worker, but I came out to support those who landed in all this trouble."
Grace Matlhoko, 48
11 years working with disabled children at Kimberley’s Bettie Gaitsiwe Clinic
“I have a great passion for (my) job. It makes me feel complete and I really want to help those who need (it). I wasn’t a community healthcare worker, but I came out to support those who landed in all this trouble.”