Fireworks at AIDS conference
Benny Malakoane, MEC for Health in the Free State, came under fire while sitting in the audience at the opening of the 7th South African AIDS Conference in Durban on Tuesday evening. Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) chairperson, Nkhensani Mavasa, delivering one of the opening speeches, called for him to be dismissed.
“We say it is unacceptable that internal party politics means that an underperforming and uncommitted MEC for Health like Benny Malakoane is untouchable. Malakoane must be replaced,” said Mavasa. The audience cheered. Malakoane stared straight ahead, chewing gum. The audience gasped when Mavasa said that Malakoane was facing corruption charges.
TAC General Secretary Anele Yawa stood beside Mavasa with a placard saying, “Drop the charges against the Bophelo House 117”. This is a reference to health workers in the Free State who were charged for protesting about the problems in the provincial public health system last year. TAC members also stood in the audience with placards saying, for example, “Benny Lies. People Die.”
“Our healthcare system is at code red. We don’t have time for political games,” Mavasa told the audience.
The evening only got worse for Malakoane. After her speech, Mavasa gave Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa one of TAC’s trademark “HIV-positive” T-shirts and welcomed him to his job. Ramaphosa, in his capacity as chairman of the South African National AIDS Conference, then opened the conference, skipping the Free State MEC when greeting the attending dignitaries. Ramaphosa also acknowledged Mavasa’s criticisms of the health system.
The TAC has been campaigning for Malakoane to be fired because of a range of problems in the Free State health system. The MEC is also facing charges of fraud and corruption. On 27 February 2015 GroundUp published an account by whistleblowing doctors in the Free State that described hospital buildings in a state of disrepair, medicine shortages, human resource problems, a dysfunctional ambulance system, insufficient X-ray services, and wastage.
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