Looking back in anger

Looking back in anger

A number of people have over the years played a role in the development of the TAC and our battle for antiretrovirals. There are too many to mention. In the following pages a small group of people who played a role in one way or another and represent various constituencies, share their recollections of the past and their dreams for the future.

Anele Yawa is General Secretary of the TAC. Before joining the National Office Anele was closely involved in the TAC’s work in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Anele is at his happiest leading a march or meeting with communities in the most far-flung areas where the TAC has a presence.

Looking 10 years back, and beyond, I just feel that our country and those in authority have allowed innocent lives to die unnecessary deaths. When I look back, I just see ‘political denialism’ and cheap politicking that have failed our country and its people. When I look back on those years, all I can see are the family members, comrades, friends, and fellow countrymen we have lost to HIV/AIDS; I see people who died without any hope. All I see are the people who died angry and hating those in authority. When I look back on those years I think about my brother who died in my hands and I remember his last words to me: ‘Sizobathola asijiki’ – we will get them and we are not turning back. As an activist I hate myself for allowing my brother to die without getting any help, when all I could do was give him hope and encouragement to fight for his life. I feel I was not only fooling him but myself, because our government did not want to provide any help to our people who were dying due to HIV/AIDS.

As much as we managed to encourage people to get tested, to disclose their HIV status and fight denialism that was caused by discrimination, the signs of a dying nation were evident in each household and each family. Each day people were dying in large numbers and the gravesites were filling up. A funeral was no longer a taboo, it was the daily bread in our communities. Infection rates were increasing rapidly, people were not getting proper counselling from the primary healthcare facilities that were doing voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). Support groups were formed and nothing was said about the treatment. Instead, people who were seriously ill were encouraged to create memory boxes, which were not giving any hope to our brothers and sisters. Our then president kept saying HIV does not cause AIDS, and he does not know anyone who has AIDS; poverty and malnutrition were causing HIV.

Pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, were selling lifesaving drugs that were too expensive for developing countries such as South Africa to buy, leaving millions of people on death row of HIV/AIDS. The then Minister of Health kept saying HIV/AIDS did not need ARV treatment, that it needed an African solution (traditional medicines). She claimed ARVs were toxic, citing the side effects of ARVs, but did not mention the efficacy of the ARV treatment in managing HIV. This caused confusion in our country, divided the nation, leaving us unable to address the challenge at hand.

It took brave fellow countrymen who were bold enough to challenge the lies that were presented to our country by our government. On 12 December 1998 we revolutionarised the struggle against HIV/AIDS. The birth of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa brought back hope to millions, both the infected and the affected, who stood up together to say ‘NO’.

The TAC provided South Africans with factual information about the science of HIV/AIDS, helping them to identify the infections as opportunistic or sexually transmitted, and educating them about the treatment thereof. This was the strategy; to conscientise. The birth of TAC not only inspired people in our country, it gave hope to people throughout the whole world.