The Civil Society Forum of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), the United Front, Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Equal Education and Ndifuna Ukwazi issued statements condemning the march, which called for the TAC to be de-registered as a non-governmental organisation because it was engaged it political activities.

Members of the ANCYL, ANC Women’s League, National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the Men’s Sector of the Provincial AIDS Council marched to the provincial offices of the TAC in Bloemfontein on Friday (20 February).

However, the SA National AIDS Council distanced itself from the provincial Men’s Sector’s participation in the march and Brothers for Life said the use of its logo in the march was “inappropriate and illegal”.

The TAC has been campaigning for the dismissal of Free State Health MEC Benny Malakoane following numerous problems with health service delivery as well as the arrest of 117 community health workers.

The ANCYL and its allies claim that the TAC is trying to be a political party, and displayed banners saying “Hands off our leaders” during the march.

SANAC’s Civil Society Forum strongly condemned the march, and its chairperson Steve Letsike said “What the ANCYL and WL are doing in the Free State is to silence civil society organisation, and this will not be tolerated by civil society sector. We should be able to hold each other accountable, who said it’s a comfortable space? Let us build a tolerant and accountable governance that should not intimidate each other”

Meanwhile, the SJC, Equal Education and Ndifuna Ukwazi said they would “strongly defend the right of social movements, community organisations, civil society and NGOs to organise in the public interest issues in a manner that is within the framework of our law and to do so without interference and gate-keeping”.

“None of the organisations [engaged in the march] have attempted to engage TAC on the issues they raise. They claim that TAC is being used as a “political party” and not a ‘non-profit organisation’. This doesn’t make sense. TAC is not contesting elections. It is taking up health issues that affect people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, the United Front described the march “a deliberate political act to deflect attention away from the demands of the TAC, community health workers and other health stakeholders in the Free State for the provision of a high quality, affordable and efficient public health service”.

“Under MEC Malakoane, the health service has seen a dramatic decline and collapse under the weight of inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement,” added the United Front.

“The United Front is increasingly worried by these baseless attacks which clearly seek to delegitimise popular dissent calling for accountability and service delivery. These attacks exhibit a political elite that is proving increasingly incapable of resolving the demands of our people. They underline the importance of sustained mass mobilisation and vigilance against the rise of state repression.” – Health-e News.