TAC Civil Disobedience Campaign Update - 26 March 2003
- ALSO: TAC chairperson, Zackie Achmat, has challenged ANC
Western Cape Spokesperson On Health, Cameron Dugmore, to a public
debate in response to Dugmore's allegation that TAC refuses to debate
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
The police behaved with professionalism and dignity at the Cape Town
and Sharpeville events. This however, was not the case in Durban.
- In Sharpeville, the police opened a docket and assigned an
investigating officer to investigate the charges, following which TAC
- In Cape Town, the police opened a docket and have assigned a case
number. Because, the TAC volunteers insisted that the Ministers be
arrested or they would not disperse, the police arrested, charged and
immediately released over 100 TAC volunteers. Following this, the TAC
volunteers dispersed and held a short vigil outside Parliament.
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
"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
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
"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
Statement Read to Minister of
Health During Disruption
Message for the South African Minister of Health Mantombazana Edmie
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
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.
The Civil Disobedience Campaign will be called off when Government:
- 31 March: Durban: March to CR Swart Police Station to
Demand Apology for Police Brutality - Starts 11am at Kingsmead. Phone
031 304 3673 for details.
- 1 April: Sit-ins at state institutions that should
be doing more to change Government's HIV/AIDS policies. More details to
- 17 April: Community Day of Action. Also health-care workers
will be encouraged to wear HIV+ t-shirts in solidarity with people with
HIV/AIDS. We encourage everyone to participate - this is not a civil
disobedience event; it is a day of mass action in communities.
- This is the anniversary of the Cabinet Statement on HIV/AIDS
that left us all so hopeful. But in 12 months, almost no progress on
treatment has been made.
- 25 April: International Day of Action to Encourage the SA
Government to Change its HIV/AIDS Policy
- Signs the NEDLAC treatment and prevention plan
- Makes an unequivocal, irreversible committment to antiretroviral