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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


Social movements: 'ultra-left' or 'global citizens'?

Date:     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 befriending.

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 corporate power.

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 Sustainable Development.

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 medicines.

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 for Aids.

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 drugs and 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 March 21.

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