'ultra-left' or 'global citizens'?
04 Feb 2003
Depending on one’s viewpoint, they are the embryo of a
“global citizens’ movement” in South Africa, or
President Thabo Mbeki’s ultra-left nightmare. They include
the “loony” organisations Minister of Water Affairs and
Forestry Ronnie Kasrils has accused the labour movement of
They are an extremely loose constellation of left-leaning,
community-based social movements that vary enormously in
focus, size and influence. Most are minuscule. What unites
them is a shared desire to help the poor and downtrodden, and,
in varying degrees, a common antagonism to hierarchies and
bureaucracies, the profit motive, the unfettered market and
They are, at the very least, independent of the government
and the ruling African National Congress. Some, like the
Treatment Action Campaign, are not necessarily anti-ANC, but
have clashed with the government. A hard core see themselves
as ideological opponents of the post-1994 South African state,
which they regard as anti-poor and subservient to domestic and
international business interests.
Most would be opposed to corporate globalisation and
emotionally partisan to the countries of the South. Some view
themselves as part of what the ANC calls “the Seattle
Movement” and have links with grassroots activists in Third
World countries like Brazil.
Under the umbrella of the Social Movements Indaba, the
latter made their presence felt during the World Summit on
The movements focus on townships, squatter camps and rural
settlements, generally organising around discrete issues of
concern to the poor — HIV/ Aids,
evictions, power and water cut-offs, land and jobs/privatisation.
This often brings them into conflict with the authorities,
particularly local councils.
Members are from diverse political backgrounds — Achmat
is a loyal ANC member — and the movement is not aligned to
any political party, basing itself on a culture of universal
human rights. It has close links with more than 170 local and
international organisations, including the Congress of South
African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and Médécins sans Frontičres.
In its first major act of civil disobedience, in 2000, it
imported a generic of Flucanazole in defiance of patent laws.
It has agitated against patent laws and the high cost of
In 2001 it ran a campaign for a countrywide programme to
prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, winning a key
high court challenge to the government. The ruling that the
state ban on nevirapine outside pilot sites was
“unjustifiable” was upheld by the Constitutional Court.
The TAC also stridently opposes attempts to deny the link
between HIV and Aids, accusing Mbeki of closet denialism.
The TAC is planning court action to force the government
and business to sign the framework agreement for national Aids treatment and prevention plan tabled in the National
Economic and Development Labour Council last year, and will
march on Parliament when it formally opens on February 14 to
rally support for the accord. The march will end at the United
States consulate, where a protest will be staged against
“inadequate” US funding for the United Nations Global Fund
If the government fails to sign the national agreement by
end-February, the TAC will engage in further civil
disobedience. — Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon
National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids
The National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids (Napwa), which started as a tiny association in
Cape Town in 1994, has become the largest association
representing people living with HIV/Aids
in South Africa, claiming between 200 000 and 300 000 members.
Its aim is to protect people living with Aids from “victimisation, stigmatisation,
dehumanisation and discrimination”; to facilitate care,
counselling and support for them; to lobby for their rights;
and to foster HIV awareness and gender sensitivity.
Recently, Napwa began a campaign of protests and civil
disobedience over the price of Aids
discrimination against HIV/Aids
sufferers, beginning with a fast outside the Midrand offices
of GlaxoSmithKline and an attempted sit-in at the
Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association’s offices, which
resulted in arrests. The campaign, targeting drug companies,
the insurance industry, the Banking Council and the Department
of Social Development, will run until Human Rights Day on
Napwa takes a conciliatory view of the government, arguing
that it is doing what it can but lacks support from business.
Spokesperson Thanduxolo Doro said: “The general attitude of
civil society is that government is responsible, but we
believe we need to help it.” However, they say they will
speak out when government errs.
Napwa has close links with Nehawu and the Democratic
Nursing Organisation of South Africa. Its association with the
TAC is strained over Napwa’s acceptance of funding from the
state and pharmaceuticals. — Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon