activists lose patience with allies
13 Jan 2003
The National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids’s (Napwa) turned its guns on its allies as the
hunger strike by several of its members ended dramatically
this week. They were arrested after they allegedly forced
entry into the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association’s
offices in Midrand outside Johannesburg.
activists had previously been camping outside the offices of
GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational drug company, since Christmas
The move was part of the activists’ Black Christmas
campaign to force drug companies and the government to make
anti-retroviral drugs freely available in South Africa. They also
called on financial institutions and insurance companies to
stop discriminating against people with HIV/Aids.
In a flurry of activity, Napwa also took on other Aids activists, including loveLife, the Treatment
Action Campaign and the Sowetan’s HIV-positive columnist
The group says it chose direct action after its message had
fallen on deaf ears at many demonstrations, protests and
The campaign got off to a soggy start when the strikers and
their belongings were rained on during the first night.
“Some people got flu and for some it became very
serious,” said Napwa media officer Joe Manciya.
Activists were complaining of stomach cramps, runny
stomachs and skin infections by the third day.
“We had to call in a doctor for observations and to
provide some medication,” he said.
“Four members were critical and had to be hospitalised
for dehy- dration. Some had pneumonia. We also suffered from
fatigue, and mouth and throat thrush,” he said.
The first phase of the campaign ended on New Year’s Day.
But GlaxoSmithKline had ignored the protesters outside its
offices and they decided to step up their actions. Seven of
the hunger strikers then also stopped drinking water and
threatened even stronger protests.
But the campaign came to an end this week when the seven
strikers were arrested after forcing their way into the nearby
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association’s offices. The
activists had planned to stage a sit-in after occupying the
offices, but instead spent a night in jail charged with
“They couldn’t ignore us if we were inside the
premises,” said Manciya, justifying the move.
The seven appeared in court on Tuesday January 7. The case
was postponed until March 7 and the seven were released
Another group of protesters descended on The Banking
Council’s offices in Johannesburg, but their occupation
plans were stymied when they found the targeted office was
well protected on the 10th floor of a building.
Napwa says banks refuse HIV-infected people bonds and
loans, insurance companies do not pay out life polices if they
discover the deceased had Aids,
patients medical coverage, and pharmaceutical companies do not
provide affordable drugs.
The Napwa activists celebrated New Year by vandalising and
scrawling “Napwa” across three loveLife billboards in
“A lot of money has been pumped into loveLife and they
are wasting it on meaningless messages,” says Than-duxolo
Doro, Napwa’s spokesperson.
Manciya agrees: “We have no problem with loveLife, but
the message displayed on their billboards is public
pornography and isn’t interpreted properly for its target
market to understand.
“We had pleaded with loveLife to change those messages,
but they decided to ignore us. So we won’t talk anymore; we
will do it for them.”
Angel Stewart Buchanan, a spokesperson for loveLife, says
her group’s publicity campaign was designed to provoke
“Our study with teenagers, to whom the message is
targeted, has shown they are effective,” she said. “We
have tried to speak to Napwa to discuss their problems, but
they will not speak with us.” She says loveLife will take
legal action if Napwa targets more of its billboards.
Though most of Napwa’s targets have ignored the group,
Doro says the activists have held “fruitful” meetings with
the Department of Health and the Department of Social
Development. The group wants the government to provide grants
to everyone with HIV.
He says the government will facilitate meetings with
targets of the Black Christmas campaign if Napwa has
difficulties organising talks.“We will be interacting with
the government a lot more ... and we’ll be part of the whole
programme,” he said.