TAC Civil Disobedience Campaign Update - 26 March 2003

Events of 20 March

(A more detailed report will follow at a later stage.)

As reported in the previous newsletter, TAC volunteers laid charges of culpable homicide against the Minister of Health and Trade and Industry at Caledon Square (Cape Town), Sharpeville (Gauteng) and CR Swart (Durban) police stations.  The Sharpeville event was preceded by an Interfaith service. The police behaved with professionalism and dignity at the Cape Town and Sharpeville events. This however, was not the case in Durban.

In Durban, TAC supporters were teargassed, sprayed with a water-cannon, punched, kicked and pushed around with batons,. Five persons were taken to hospital. TAC organiser, Sifiso Nkabinde was hospitalised (though he is now out of hospital) because teargas was sprayed into his eyes at close range. This brutality by the Durban SAPS stands in stark contrast to the way in which the police dealt with TAC in Cape Town and at Sharpeville. 
In Durban, we will lay a complaint with the ICD, we will also organise a mass demonstration at the Durban Central (CR Swart) police station. We demand that the police who perpetratred the assault on peaceful civil disobedience volunteers seeking arrest be dismissed. On Monday 31 March, TAC volunteers will march to CR Swart to demand an apology from the police commissioner and highlight the brutality of the CR Swart police officers.

TAC members met with police commissioners from Gauteng, Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal before the civil disobedience campaign began to emphasise that our events would be peaceful and that arrests could take place without the use of violence.

Short Description of the  TAC demonstration which took place at the Central Police Station, Somtseu Road, Durban on Thursday 20 March 2003 Based on Reports by TAC's Lawyer, Staff and Volunteers

There were approximately 80 people that participated in the event including three or four elderly women and one pregnant woman.
At all material times the demonstration was a peaceful and non-violent. But the response that the protestors were met with from members of the SAPS was
neither  peaceful nor non-violent. TAC volunteers asked for Ministers Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Alec Erwin to be arrested on culpable homicide. If the police could not or would not do this, then the TAC volunteers made it clear that they would not move until they were arrested.

A search of both the Criminal Procedure Act and the Bill of Rights to try and find some provision in our law which would justify the conduct of the South African Police Services in Durban, in responding to the demonstration in the manner in which they did has yielded nothing that could justify their behaviour.

They regarded the use of force and violence (and the use of a watercannon does amount to the use of violence) as the only remedies to disperse the demonstration. They were not prepared to discuss any alternatives, despite remonstrations in this regard.

The SAPS used teargas and a water-cannon to disperse the crowd. They also kicked, punched and ridiculed TAC volunteers.

The police laughed off suggestions that a docket could be opened against the Ministers.

Statement by Human Rights Watch

South Africa Should Allow Peaceful Protest by People "Dying for Treatment"

(New York, March 21, 2003) --The South African government should not respond with violence to HIV/AIDS demonstrators seeking medical treatment, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Durban yesterday opened water cannons on some 70 peaceful demonstrators who were urging the government to provide antiretroviral treatment for persons living with HIV/AIDS. This attack took place on the eve of South Africa's Human Rights Day, established in memory of the victims of apartheid-era atrocities.

"There is no justification for violence on the part of the authorities in the face of peaceful protest," said Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS Program of Human Rights Watch.  "The treatment movement's methods have consistently been nonviolent, and the police response is unfitting for a country committed to human rights."

The organization Treatment Access Campaign (TAC) is leading a series of civil disobedience actions in a campaign called "Dying for Treatment" that includes peaceful demonstrations near police stations. TAC's strategy is to send a few protestors into police stations to bring charges of manslaughter against key government officials who are alleged to have impeded access to life-saving treatment for people with AIDS, knowing that those who enter police stations to present these charges are likely to be arrested. It was after the presentation of these charges that police in Durban tried to disperse the demonstrators outside the station and, when they refused to disperse, used water cannons to clear the area. No arrests were reported in the Durban incident.

South Africa is home to about 5 million persons with AIDS. The government has repeatedly refused to provide antiretroviral treatment through government health programs and had to be taken to court in 2002 to be forced to provide even the short course of antiretroviral medicines that can reduce the risk of HIV transmission in childbirth, routinely provided in countries much more resource-strapped than South Africa. (See Human Rights Watch letter to President Thabo Mbeki on this case http://www.hrw.org/press/2001/11/mbekiltr1120.htm)  "We urge the government not to compound its inaction in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in the country by responding inappropriately to peaceful protestors," said Csete. "People with AIDS have suffered enough--it's time to work with them to avert death on a massive scale, not to treat them like criminals."

For more information on South Africa, please see:

For more information on AIDS/HIV and human rights, please see:


TAC Volunteers Disrupt Minister of Health's Speech at Public Health 2003 Conference

On 25 March, TAC members disrupted the speech of the Minister of Health when she opened the Health Systems Trust Public Health 2003 Conference. A SAPA report on the event is available from Independent Online.

Statement Read to Minister of Health During Disruption

Message for the South African Minister of Health Mantombazana Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang

We are angry. According to Government's sources over 600 people will die of AIDS everyday on average this year. We stand here today to say to you that you have willfully and negligently failed to implement the necessary interventions, including antiretroviral treatment, that would prevent many of these deaths. Nevertheless, we also stand here today to say that we will always be available to work with government, health-care workers and all of South African society for a better public health-care system.

For many years doctors, nurses, researchers, people with HIV/AIDS, churches, unions, businesses, provincial ANC congresses, the South African Communist Party, the SANAC Youth Sector and organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign have been trying to convince you to adopt and implement an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention plan. We have been model citizens in this regard, using negotiations, demonstrations, the media, the courts, the Human Rights Commission, NEDLAC and numerous other democratic means to convince you to do the right thing.

Instead of embracing the dozens of opportunities we have given you to work together with civil society to treat our people and reduce new infections, your response has been to resort to pseudo-science, thereby showing disrespect for people with HIV, women, the poor and black people. You have consorted (and continue to consort) with HIV denialists and have never once on record stated without condition that you believe that HIV causes AIDS, though you have claimed it is a premise, not a fact, of government policy. You have caused public confusion over the efficacy of antiretrovirals and it took a court case to get your department to implement mother-to-child transmission prevention. Instead of seizing the opportunity to implement this programme without condition, you offered succour to a corrupt MEC for Health, Ms. Sibongile Manana, who has failed to implement the programme. To this date, you have not issued a single national circular to all health-care workers and Provincial Departments informing them properly of their Constitutional obligations. You have also failed to inform every pregnant woman who uses the public health care sector of your plans to reduce the risk of HIV infection to their children.

Instead of leading government to adopt the NEDLAC framework agreement on a treatment and prevention plan, you undermined and misrepresented it. You did not have time in the last few months to ensure that whatever concerns you have about the agreement were addressed, but you had time to seek publicity in Iraq and to consort with the charlatan, Roberto Girraldo. Nor have you ever taken the time to visit antiretroviral treatment projects in Khayelitsha or Gugulethu.
We have heard a number of excuses from you as to why antiretroviral therapy should not be implemented. You have cited toxicity. You have said prevention rather than treatment. You have cited the cost. Now that all these excuses have been shown to be false, you misuse the need and hunger of our people by chanting nutrition rather than treatment as if the two are mutually exclusive.

In the Sunday newspapers government talks about its desire to work with partners. Government also acknowledges the efficacy of antiretroviral therapy and says it will consider proposals from a joint health and finance committee that has calculated the cost of a number of interventions, including antiretroviral treatment. But we have heard promises on antiretroviral therapy from government for nearly a year since the 17 April Cabinet Statement. In effect, you have wasted money by advertising a wish list described as a plan. We are aware that the costing study is complete. We can only hope, that unlike the MRC report and the HST/DOH Scientists report on antiretroviral therapy, you will not attempt to censor this report.

Almost no progress has been made on the implementation of treatment programmes since we jointly won the court case against the drug companies on 18 April 2001 or since the 17 April Cabinet Statement of 2002. All efforts to reduce medicine prices have come from civil society, not government. You have ignored the desperation of the doctors, nurses and patients in the public health care system. We are tired of promises. We must see a plan and its reasonable implementation. Millions of lives depend on it. However, we also no longer believe that you have the will or competence to manage the HIV epidemic or the public health care sector appropriately. Inequity and quality of service in the public health care sector have worsened since you took over from your predecessor who made a valiant effort to transform the health care service. You have deceived, misrepresented, delayed and denied for too long. We hope you will prove us wrong by making an unequivocal and irreversible commitment to antiretroviral therapy and by signing the NEDLAC agreement. If you fail to do this, we will take legal action and continue our civil disobedience to ensure that the public health care sector succeeds in spite of you.


Upcoming Events

The Civil Disobedience Campaign will be called off when Government: