You may have heard about an organisation that has been at the forefront of tackling the myths around AIDS in South Africa. We met this organisation Treatment Action Campaign during our trip to the region.
I met Regis, a Zimbabwean who coordinates TAC’s campaigns. Treatment for Action Campaign started around 10 years to mark the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, but importantly to ensure dignity and human rights are respected, especially for HIV survivors. They use the Constitution to ensure those rights are respected.
They argue that the government isn’t doing enough to provide access to treatment. Due to how expensive treatment is and how difficult it is to get hold of, it’s proving very difficult to make access easier. They want to see generics as part of government tenders. They lobby the government to develop plans on how they are going to put their good words into practice. When this doesn’t work, they take them to the court as well as the pharmaceuticals, and particularly people like Dr Rath over peddling fake medicines.
What I found most inspiring is how they get people on the streets involved in mass demonstrations. To do this, members go into their communities to organise. One member of the six provinces they work in won a prize for distributing 20000 condoms, but the overall congratulations go to Isaac the “Condom King” who has distributed over 1 million condoms.
They also use mobiles to send people info on aids and flashmobs to get as many activists to demonstrate outside police stations against the xenophobic attacks. They are true pioneers in educating their members on how to understand treatment (including the side-effects, other illnesses that may be affecting it, fighting the stigma). They train treatment literacy practitioners.
This is particularly vital in a country where even the Prime Minister claimed he did not know anyone who had died of Aids and the Health Minister believing that beetroot was the cure to it, stronger action is needed.
TAC also work in Botswana, Mozambique and Swaziland as part of the Southern Africa Access to Treatment Coalition.
They have also been involved in bringing 200 volunteers to the refugee camps during the xenophobic attacks, especially where no community halls have been opened for them by the Cape Town City Council. For them, this is not out only out of kindness, but a public health issue — everyone is at risk. It’s not about cutting taxes, it’s how about how you use taxes. It’s about people to people solidarity. Today it’s Zimbabwe, tomorrow it could be you.
In the evening we met with Denis Goldberg, who had invited us to a barbecue he had organised with a community group called Courage & Friendship. It was great just meeting people like us who were doing their thing in the community. The conversation did focus on the issue of the moment — the xenophobic attacks.
For Denis, the experience of feeling rejected is common everywhere, whether in apartheid South Africa, Nazi Germany, the “stop & search” (SUS) in Brixton and in the refugee camps in Cape Town. He really epitomised for me the struggle of being born free and equal.
It was strangely wonderful that the barbeque he organised brought together community organisers from local townships and ourselves from the UK, or to put it more simply, getting people from different backgrounds to be able to share stories, laughs and good food together without feeling the chains of inequality and inferiority.
This type of benign event on a winter’s night (our summer!) was what he had dreamt about all these years ago. It’s what kept him going from when he started as a political activist through to the famous Rivonia trial and through the mind-crushing years in prison.
Although he argued that South Africa wasn’t a rainbow nation…yet, more a nation of diverse cultures, I felt both awkward and inspired throughout the trip at how every time you turn round, someone is there to take your rubbish, fill up your cup of coffee, lend you a hand. It’s that genuine sense of solidarity and fraternity, put simply neighbourliness that we so miss in this country.