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Bloemfontein - More than 100 community health workers will appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Friday, the Treatment Action Campaign said.

The group was expected to apply for bail on Friday, the TAC said.

They were arrested in Bloemfontein on Thursday morning for staging a sit-in at the health department.

The TAC said the protesters had complained they had not been fed since their arrest and some had not been given their medication.

The workers and TAC members, mostly older women, took part in a vigil in an attempt to “speak out against the failings in and collapse of the Free State health system”, TAC general secretary Anele Yawa said.

The vigil was staged after health workers failed to secure a meeting with health MEC Benny Malakoane.

Yawa said they had previously demanded a meeting with Malakoane following a sit-in on June 27. She said the vigil was part of a campaign to remove Malakoane from his position.

The TAC had sent a request to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe for a meeting to demand intervention in the Free State's “collapsing” health department.

Community health workers have been protesting against the termination of their contracts and demanding they be paid.

TAC Free State chairman Sello Mokhalipi confirmed the salary dispute was one of the reasons for the sit-in. He said health care workers, who were currently getting paid R1 400 a month, wanted R3 500 after deductions.

Free State government spokesman Mondli Mvambi said the province would not tolerate people who disrupted services.

“It is worse that this happened whilst the MEC was tabling his budget vote speech, which was intended to provide information and strategic direction on how the department of health is being stabilised to provide quality health care services,” he said.

“We are a responsive and caring government, and this is reflected in how considerate the MEC has been to the issues that were raised by the TAC and the representatives of the health care workers.”

The Congress of SA Trade Unions and its affiliate the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) called for the charges against the health workers to be dropped and for them to be released.

“Community health workers are a critical component of public health care, but are exploited by the failure to respect their rights as workers,” Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said.

He said community health workers must be formally brought into the health care system as health department employees, and unionised.

Denosa said: “Allowing the current state of health, which the MEC is familiar with... will be tantamount to sentencing the vulnerable and sick people of the province to a death sentence.”