BLOEMFONTEIN, 8th AUGUST 2016: Today the #BopheloHouse94 are appearing in Bloemfontein High Court. The community healthcare workers (CHWs) are appealing their conviction in October 2015 in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court. A conviction that found them guilty of violating the Regulation of Gatherings Act for attending a peaceful night vigil outside the provincial health department.

The #BopheloHouse94 are making two main arguments. Firstly, that the Magistrate interpreted the Regulation of Gathering Act wrong and an un-notified gathering is not a prohibited gathering. Secondly, that if the court agrees with the Magistrate’s interpretation, then that section of the Act must be declared unconstitutional.

The #BopheloHouse94 last appeared in court on 20 June. Prior to the 20 June hearing, the Minister of Police ignored a court directive to file substantive papers. This resulted in further delay, as the court felt itself at a loss in the absence of submissions from the Minister of Police. On 20 June the Judge ruled that both the appeal and the challenge on the constitutionality of that part of the Gathering Act would be heard together today. A video explanation can be viewed here.

The case has critical importance for the ability of all people in South Africa to safely exercise their constitutional right to protest. The interpretation of the Regulation of Gatherings Act that led to the convictions threatens the core of the right to protest and, if upheld, will disempower all activists in the Free State and beyond.

The #BopheloHouse94 are CHWs from across the Free State. Many are elderly women. They were arrested in June 2014 at a peaceful night vigil at Bophelo House, the headquarters of the Free State Health Department. They were protesting the collapse of the Free State public healthcare system and the decision of MEC of Health Benny Malakoane to dismiss, without warning or cause, approximately 3 000 CHWs in the province in April 2014. At no time during the vigil did they threaten public safety or damage property. The CHWs simply wanted a meeting with the MEC of Health to address these challenges. Instead they were arrested, incarcerated at the police station and made to travel seven times over two years to spend a total of 14 days in court before being convicted.

On 19 June – after more than two years – the CHWs were finally given a platform to directly address leaders in the Free State government at a public dialogue organised by TAC. Premier Ace Magashule heard testimonies from more than 20 of the convicted community healthcare workers. In response, the Premier promised to give a clear answer on this issue within two weeks. A letter was issued to TAC on 13 July proposing a meeting with the Executive Council and TAC immediately after the elections to resolve issues of the CHWs. TAC requested that the Premier avail himself to directly address the CHWs on 7 August. Despite best efforts, the Premier has not responded to this request. TAC is disappointed in the manner in which this is being handled by the Premier.

Although the #BopheloHouse94 are all now TAC members, they also represent their own constituency and have an elected CHW leadership in the province. As such TAC believes that it should not be the gate keeper of information flowing from the Premier, rather that he directly engages with them and their concerns.

SECTION27 and Webbers Attorneys represent the Treatment Action Campaign and the #BopheloHouse94.

Follow @TAC and @SECTION27news for live updates during the appeal.

For more information contact Lotti Rutter on lotti.rutter@tac.org.za or 081 818 8493

Background information:

Briefing document on the #BopheloHouse94 trial and the community healthcare workers in Free State:http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/%23BopheloHouse94%20Briefing.pdf

YouTube video explaining the appeal postponement on 20 June
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfJm2di3xTA

Legal papers:

1. Appellants’ Heads of Argument:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/1.%20Appellants%20Heads%20of%20Arg…

2. Respondent’s Heads of Argument:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/2.%20Respondents%20Heads%20of%20Ar…

3 Trial Records:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/3.1%20Trial%20Record%20part%201.pdf
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/3.2%20Trial%20Record%20part%202.pdf
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/3.3%20Trial%20Record%20part%203.pdf
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/3.4%20Trial%20Record%20part%204.pdf

4. Founding Affidavit:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/4.%20Founding%20Affidavit%20.pdf

5 Supplementary Answering Affidavit:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/5.1%20Supplementary%20Answering%20…
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/5.2%20Supplementary%20Answering%20…
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/5.3%20Supplementary%20Answering%20…

6. Supplementary Answering Affidavit:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/6.%20Supplementary%20Answering%20A…

7. Applicants’ Supplementary Heads of Argument:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/7.%20Applicants%20supplementary%20…

8. Minister of Police Supplementary Heads of Argument:
http://tac.org.za/sites/default/files/8.%20Min%20of%20Police%20Suppleman…