April 3, 2003
Zackie Achmat, perhaps the most outspoken leader of the civil disobedience campaign to force South Africa's government to supply antiretroviral drugs, vowed Tuesday to intensify the fight. The HIV-positive law student reiterated his vow never to take the drugs until the government makes them generally available. Diagnosed in 1990, Achmat, 41, is leading a new wave of activism to help South Africa's 4.7 million HIV-infected people gets AIDS drugs. Although his medical insurance will pay for antiretrovirals, he will not take them until they are available to the general population.
Former President Nelson Mandela last year praised Achmat as a role model and a disciplined member of the ruling African National Congress, and he vowed to take his fight to the government. Achmat believes the former president is "doing all he can."
Achmat's group, Treatment Action Campaign, has chosen civil disobedience to pressure the government. Though TAC won a Constitutional Court case last year ordering the government to supply antiretrovirals to public hospitals and clinics, negotiations soon ground to a halt. Last week, Achmat and about 160 activists waved placards and chanted, "murderer" and "Manto, go to jail!" as the nation's health minister, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, tried to address a public health conference. The government has since indicated a desire to resume talks.
"Through its disobedience campaign, the TAC spreads malicious lies that [the] government 'had the resources to take action to reduce the prices of HIV/AIDS medicines' but failed to do so," said Tshabalala-Msimang. "This year [the] government will move swiftly into implementing the Medicine and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, to give our country better options in accessing affordable quality medicines," she said.
Achmat, meanwhile, said he is sick of "begging, cajoling, charming and arguing before government" while his friends die.