TAC Newsletter - 6 June 2003

Health-care workers mobilise for a better health care system


The Treatment Action Campaign is committed to the transformation of the SA public health service to ensure that it provides quality care and treatment of all people who need it.  Access to health care services is a constitutional right and the government’s Patients’ Rights Charter makes it clear that users have a right to be treated with dignity and to have access to information and appropriate care.

TAC hopes that South Africa is on the verge of a new era and that Cabinet will soon announce a commitment to begin to provide antiretroviral therapy to people with AIDS.  The success and full implementation of such a decision will require many improvements to existing services, the rapid training of health care workers and greater community involvement with and responsibility for health.

In view of this, TAC has begun to build an alliance with associations and trade unions of health care workers, professional medical organisations and consumer and community organisations.  The objective of this alliance is to:

·    lobby government to improve quality of care and conditions of health care workers;
·    to mobilise communities to support and strengthen health services and to know their rights in relation to the health system;
·    to create better communication between health providers and users; and
·    to ensure that as many lives as possible are saved through the implementation of a National HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment Plan.

To mark the beginning of this campaign, on June 6th 2003 TAC and its allies are facilitating activities all over South Africa, aimed at highlighting issues and conditions in the health services and building relationships with clinics.

For details of this campaign, contact:
Vuyani Jacobs        082 420 9475    or
Joanna Ncala        082 735 4265


Health-care worker day of action events around the country

All events are on 6 June unless otherwise specified

· Rally outside Baragwanath Hospital (health care workers in HIV Positive t-shirts, members of public and COSATU leadership invited)
· Collection by 20 volunteers of petition signatures at Baragwanath
· Presentation of petition signatures for delivery to Nat’l Dept of Health prior to the rally
· Workers at other hospitals encouraged to organize activities at their hospitals

· Regional rallies featuring speeches by doctors and nurses (Nehawu, Hospersa)
    Durban Central: Kings Park Stadium
    Pietermaritzburg: Edendalle Hospital
    Stanger: Stanger Hospital
    Mandeni: Sibusisiwe Community Hall
· Submission of petitions to Regional and Provincial Dept of Health after rally

· Rally in town of Makhado
· Rally at Kabokweni Community Hall next to clinic (nurses, doctors, VCT counsellors wearing HIV Positive t-shirts attending and media)
· Horspesa Mpumalanga organizing health care workers from different hospitals and clinics (hospitals expected to take part: Embuleni, Kabokweni, Barberton, Caroline, Shongwe, Sabie, Rob Ferreira)
· Petitions sent to different hospitals and clinics gathering support from health care workers who can not take part in the rally due to working conditions

Western Cape:
· Rally in Site B Hall in Khayelitsha starting at 2 pm (attended by nurses, doctors, student doctors from other parts of W. Cape)
· Open discussion led by Nonkosi Khumalo on conditions of health care workers and how to take the campaign forward
· Petitions collected to be delivered to Nat’l Dept of Health on a day determined by health care workers


Jonathan Mann Award acceptance speech delivered by Nonkosi Khumalo, TAC Women's Health Co-ordinator

May 29 2003, Washington DC

Good evening. My name is Nonkosi Khumalo. I am the women's health programmes co-coordinator for the Treatment Action Campaign and I am grateful to be here tonight to accept the Jonathan Mann award on behalf of Zackie Achmat.

It is an honour for Zackie to have been selected by the Global Health Council as one of the co-recipients of the Jonathan Mann Award this year. Thank you.

I accept this award not only on Zackie's behalf but also for the TAC and its many volunteers across South Africa who dedicate their lives to alleviating an epidemic that this year will claim more than 600 of my countrymen every day.

When I accept this award, I think of people like Vuyani Jacobs, who as I speak, is mobilizing nurses and doctors across South Africa to campaign for better conditions in our public health sector.  He is able to work today, but not long ago he suffered from meningitis and was beginning to lose his memory. I also think of Hazel Tau, who shortly after announcing in a press conference that she was the first complainant in litigation at South Africa's Competition Commission to get GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim to reduce the prices of their antiretroviral medicines, almost collapsed and was later told she had a CD4 count of less than 10. This award is also for Nontsikelelo Zwedala, who lives in a shack without any basic facilities in one of Cape Town's poorest townships. Despite seeing her boyfriend die of systemic thrush because he could not afford a drug called fluconazole and who herself suffered from thrush for months, she bravely participated in every TAC picket, march and community awareness, prevention and treatment literacy programme, with a weight of 42 kilograms and a viral load of over 3 million. She now weighs 65 kilograms, works as a counsellor and has an undetectable viral load.

Hazel is recovering and Vuyani and Nontsikelelo are able to work because like most people in Europe and the United States, they have access to life-saving treatments.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of my countrymen, in fact the vast majority of Africans, do not have access to antiretroviral therapy.  Neither do many have access to medicines to treat opportunistic infections nor do they receive palliative care when they experience painful, slow and, far too often, lonely deaths from AIDS.

I also accept this award in memory of Christopher Moraka, Sarah Hlalele, Edwuard Mabunda, Kebareng Moeketsi, Nomfundo Somana and many other activists that not only dedicated their lives to ensuring better access to health care services for all, but died because they could not have access to life-saving medicines for HIV/AIDS.

The TAC will continue ensuring that the barriers to the lack of access to medicines in Africa come down. In the last four years, it has been our honour to have been part of a global campaign of people who hold human rights above profit. This global campaign has forced drug companies to drop some of their essential medicine prices. It has also resulted in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Critically, in South Africa, it has seen the emergence of people who do not hide their HIV status, who wear t-shirts saying HIV-positive. They do this because only by destigmatising HIV, can the human dignity that this epidemic robs people of, be restored.

Nevertheless, there is much to be done. Drug prices remain too high and access to generic versions of essential patented medicines remains the
exception. The Global Fund remains terribly under-financed and discrimination against people with HIV in South Africa and elsewhere is
still a serious problem.

However, what is most hurtful for those of us who fought to bring about democracy in South Africa, is the response of the South African
Government to the HIV epidemic which has been characterised by denial. But I am hopeful. Within the next few weeks, my government has the
opportunity to put the errors of the last few years behind it. There is reason to believe that very soon the South African government will make
real progress towards the implementation of a comprehensive treatment and prevention plan. If it does not - if the denial continues - it is
not the resumption of TAC's high-profile peaceful civil disobedience campaign that government should fear, but the immense anger, misery, death and betrayal that millions of South Africans will experience.

The South African government has had many opportunities to do the right thing in the past. It truly must take this opportunity. By doing so it
will give meaning to the South African Constitution's most important protections: the rights to life and dignity.

Thank you.


Response to Christine Qunta's racist article in Business Day delivered by Sipho Mthathi, TAC Treatment Literacy Co-ordinator

Published in Business Day -  2 June 2003 (Below this response is another response by Xolani Mangcu and the original article by Christine Qunta - Editor)

Work with us to restore the dignity of black people

By Sipho Mthathi - TAC Treatment Literacy Co-ordinator

Christine Qunta's racist article of 23rd May reminded me of an incident 17 years ago. I waited eight hours at a bus station for my mother. When she came in the dark, covered in blood, I felt angry and abandoned. At the bus station, I had watched white male  police dragging black people from their houses and dumping them into Hippos.  I later learnt that my mother had been caught in a bloody conflict with marching school children who police had set  dogs on. Like many who learnt of the evils of Apartheid by direct experience I became angry at white people. I grew to hate their power that they used to achieve the indignity of black people.

I am no less angry today, because through Apartheid's enduring effects, black people still suffer. So, when Christine Qunta implies we must accept burying our comrades and excuse the failure of our government to respond to the crisis of AIDS in a way that stops it from stripping the dignity of black people, it is a betrayal of the people who fought to achieve liberation.

For many black people living in poverty, either as a result of HIV/AIDS or whom poverty has made vulnerable to HIV infection and premature death, it is tragic that the people who should fight with us to defend our rights are the ones who spit in our faces.

For some in the Treatment Action Campaign who remember what the struggle for liberation represented, our government's response to HIV/AIDS fills us with anger.  It is after all this government that should free us of the legacy of Apartheid by dealing with the HIV epidemic, the lack of access to health care and education, poverty and unemployment. So, when it  fails to provide the necessary leadership despite numerous opportunities to make much needed treatment available, we are compelled to question it.

The devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on communities and individuals, especially those who, unlike most in the black middle class elite, cannot afford treatment, is well documented. The further economic deprivation of many already "poor" Black women as a result of AIDS should be better understood by black women like Christine Qunta who have the skills to read and analyse situations. It is therefore tragic that many black, middle class women and men, such as her, have been so silent on AIDS and the deaths of over 600 mostly black people daily.

Qunta's article reinforces my sense of betrayal by many of our successful women leaders and those in parliament who, despite the power we vested in them by voting them into government, blindly join the boys club which labels human rights activists as unpatriotic when they should be leading us to a better life for all in South Africa.

Qunta laments whites who complain but are "smiling all the way to the top of the corporate ladder". Unfortunately, both black and white leaders of the Treatment Action Campaign simply do not have the luxury to look beyond our own ill-health and planning the next funeral of our fellow comrades who die prematurely and unnecessarily, to think about corporate or political careers. We wish our brothers and sisters in the elite, like Christine Qunta and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, would work with us to save lives and give hope, instead of spitting in our faces.


History, morality and values do not count for much in SA

By Xolan Mangcu ( Mangcu is executive director of the Steve Biko Foundation and Business Day columnist) - 5 June 2003, Business Day

I CHOKED with emotion reading Sipho Mthathi's letter to Business Day on Monday (Join us, do not spit in our faces). Mthathi, who is the literacy co-ordinator for the Treatment Action Campaign, was responding to an article in which, among other things, Christine Qunta accuses HIV/AIDS activist Zackie Achmat of being a publicity seeker. I was deeply pained by Qunta's article because I have always known Zackie to be a man of integrity.

Mthathi's letter captures poignantly the pain of ordinary South Africans living with HIV/AIDS, a pain exacerbated by their political, social and economic distance from the levers of power. The import of the letter extends far beyond the person of Christine Qunta. It is a collector's item that historians must keep if only to remind us of these cynical times.

Mthathi writes that the "deprivation of many already poor black women as a result of AIDS should be better understood by black women like Qunta who have skills to read and analyse situations. It is tragic that many black middle-class women and men such as her have been so silent on AIDS and the deaths of over 600 mostly black people daily.

"Qunta's article reinforces my sense of betrayal by many of our successful women leaders and those in Parliament who, despite the power vested in them by voting them into government, blindly join the boys club, which laments human rights activists as unpatriotic when they should be leading us to a better life for all." The letter concludes with this plea: "We wish our brothers and sisters in the elite, like Qunta and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, would work with us to save lives and give hope, instead of spitting in our faces." We may be tempted to shoot the messenger but the truth will remain long after he's gone, a lesson that our long and brutal history should have taught us by now.

Maybe highfalutin concepts such as history, morality and values do not amount for much in our moneycrazed society. Judging by the frequency of corruption scandals among senior government officials you would think we are living in Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons," where each individual has to extract as many deals as possible before the public trough runs dry.

I must say I read with utter dismay President Thabo Mbeki's assertion in his weekly letter to the ANC that these scandals are a fictitious creation of racist "fishers of men" seeking to portray the black government as corrupt.

The president sustains this assertion by employing a smart legalistic flourish. Because the government was responsible only for the awarding of main contracts in the arms deal it cannot be held responsible for the shenanigans surrounding subcontracts. In one deft move he has proved himself more creative than his "fishers of men", bracketing from consideration the crux of corruption claims.

But if we refuse to be distracted by this creative device then we confront the morass of corruption among the high and mighty, whether in cases where wrongdoing has been admitted by Tony Yengeni and Mosiuoa Lekota or where the investigation is still under way in the cases of Deputy President Jacob Zuma and the recent revelations of a Nigerian oil deal secured in our name.

I submit that the real fiction would be to look the other way simply because these are our black brothers and sisters. With the cover of race our public life would not just be fiction; it would be tragicomedy.

And while I am on the subject of creativity, Mr President, I may as well point to the fiction that you have created around Zimbabwe. I suspect Zimbabweans suffering Robert Mugabe's wrath will not be amused by your statement that "the economic crisis currently affecting Zimbabwe did not originate from the desperate actions of a reckless political leadership it arose from a genuine concern to meet the needs of the black poor". Neither will they be terribly impressed by Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's statement that "we will never condemn Zimbabwe". What will it take for government to wake up to the reality of the monstrosity that is Mugabe? To merely repeat the mantra that Zimbabweans will solve their problems is at best a non sequitur.

The real world of make-believe is to be found in government's stance on HIV/AIDS, Zimbabwe, corruption, and the economic policies that have let loose joblessness, poverty, inequality and hopelessness. As in Zimbabwe, when the consequences of these policies hit our streets we shall no longer talk of fiction because, in Gil Scott Heron's prophetic words, "the revolution will not be televised".


White males' rage is blacks' burden

By Christine Qunta (Business Day, 23 May 2003)

WATCHING white male rage is a truly unedifying spectacle. Being a victim of such rage is even worse.
And it seems as if unrestrained white male rage is back in vogue. All one has to do is to open a newspaper or listen to a radio station.
Health Minister Manto TshabalalaMsimang recently had a taste of some righteous white male rage, courtesy of one German businessman.
After verbally abusing her, he rushes from the plane and contacts a radio station and speaks to another white male whose greatest contribution to this country was breaking the sports boycott as an Irish rugby player during the wonderful old days when everyone knew their place and life was much simpler than now.
Our brave and fearless German man was lucky. He could have ended up with a bloodied nose if it had been a white male or for that matter an African male no doubt a fact that he was keenly aware of at the time of choosing his victim.
Then we have Mark Heywood and Nathan Geffen of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), current media darlings who seem congenitally angry and quite excited about the prospect of doing outrageous things while trying to get Zackie Achmat declared an international martyr with a little help from the University of Natal and Time magazine.
It seems as if white male rage is the black man's (and woman's) burden.
My apologies to those white males who are positive and are rolling up their sleeves to fashion a new society from the ashes of the old. They are, of course, too boring to be courted by the media.
Sometimes amid the anguish and rage about affirmative action and the numerous bogeys white males terrorise themselves with, even I feel some stirrings of compassion.
That is, until I am reminded of the reality we live in when I read, as I did about two weeks ago, about the labour department's employment equity report for 2001 and 2002. It shows that 75% of top management positions in companies in SA are occupied by white males.
At one level one can sympathise with the culture shock they have had to go through since 1994. One minute the only black women they interact with are those who clean their houses and the next minute they have to share their workplace with them, sit next to them in business class, have them make policies that affect their lives and, even worse, have them as bosses.
However, if the black middle class can observe white male rage at close quarters, the poor people of this country are in the paradoxical situation of suddenly having acquired white male champions in Parliament, at Afrikaans universities and on the streets.
As to the cause of the poverty and their role in creating it, they assume black people's memories are short and their hearts big.
It's interesting seeing these recent converts to the cause of poverty get their three minutes of fame, sometimes with Africans in the background like extras on a movie set. They do not speak. They are spoken for in the proud white liberal tradition of this country.
If the issues facing poor people in this country were not so serious, the situation would be quite comical.
As the election gets closer we might even see some stranger sights, such as Tony Leon and Douglas Gibson of the Democratic Alliance toyi-toying. Who knows, the TAC might even become a political party and join forces with Patricia de Lille.
The real business of managing SA and attending to the needs of the poor in a serious, systematic way will go on regardless of these entertaining sideshows.
If you are white and male, you can scream marginalisation, even extinction, while holding sway in the economy and smiling all the way to the top of the corporate ladder (and the bank). This can be done all at once, with a straight face. We are living in truly interesting times.

Qunta is a partner in the law firm Qunta Incorporated.