March 21, 2003
South African AIDS activists filed manslaughter charges Thursday against government officials and called for their arrest. Activists are accusing the government of stalling in the provision of adequate treatment to HIV-positive citizens, and they point to Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabala-Msimang and Trade Minister Alec Erwin as responsible for the 600 daily deaths from AIDS-related illnesses. "It's probably premature for us to comment on the basis of the information we have," said Health Ministry spokesperson Jo-Anne Collinge. Erwin was unavailable for comment.
While five representatives of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) filed charges inside the Sharpeville police station, almost 200 additional supporters silently waited outside. TAC specifically chose Sharpeville, a poor black area almost 40 miles from Johannesburg, as it was the site where police killed 69 black anti-apartheid protesters on March 21, 1960. In honor of the victims, March 21 is now a public holiday, Human Rights Day. Police in Cape Town arrested 110 protesters trying to file the same charges.
TAC said that both Tshabala-Msimang and Erwin had the legal power and duty to prevent AIDS-related deaths through the development of a treatment and prevention plan and by making AIDS drugs available or authorizing production of generic versions. TAC asserts the continued deaths from AIDS are caused by the government's negligence. "We believe that many thousands of people can bear witness to these horrible crimes," said the group.
TAC activists handed police what they termed a "people's docket" listing allegations of the government ministers' responsibility in the deaths. "I will stand strong for the justice of the people," said Prudence Mabele, an HIV-positive woman who was among those filing charges against the government. Campaign officials said that an "irreversible and unequivocal" government commitment to a public sector antiretroviral treatment program is needed.