Nkhensani Mavasa’s speech at the opening of TAC’s sixth National Congress
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Chairperson Nkhensani Mavasa delivered the below speech at the opening of the TAC’s sixth National Congress on 23 August 2017. The speech has been lightly edited for publication.
It is my privilege to welcome you to TAC’s 6th National Congress.
We are gathered here in a critical time in our history – both as members of TAC and as people who live in South Africa.
We have come a very long way since TAC was founded on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town in 1998.
We have had many victories.
In 2002, we used the Constitution of this country to force our government to provide PMTCT to pregnant women who are living with HIV.
In the years that followed we kept up the pressure for a treatment programme for all people with HIV who need treatment.
Under the leadership of Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s ARV programme has become the largest ARV programme in the world.
Comrades, together we won the battle for AIDS treatment. We helped save many thousands and thousands of lives.
We are still winning important victories in the courts – from our intervention in the case of Dudley Lee who contracted TB while in prison, to our intervention in the large silicosis and TB class action case last year, and most recently, the case of the Bophelo House 94 who stayed determined until their unjust convictions were overturned, and who in the process affirmed the right of all people in this country to protest.
Comrades, there are many heroes in TAC, but few more courageous than the brave and determined Bophelo House 94. Let us pause for a moment to applaud them.
Comrades, we also had many victories outside of the court room. Through our sustained and committed activism we have in recent years unseated under-performing MECs for Health like Benny Malakoane, Sicelo Gqobana and Qedani Mahlangu. This is hard work, but holding those in power to account is now needed more than ever given the crisis in our healthcare system. We must continue this work.
But maybe most important, are not the court victories or the holding accountable of MECs for health, but the clinic-level victories that are won on a day to day basis by our branches. These victories do not make the front pages, but they directly change the lives of our members and the people in our communities.
To all our branches, leadership, and staff across the country, we recognise you. You are the beating heart of TAC.
We also recognise our partners and allies in the struggle for social justice, many who are in the room here with us.
But even while we have had important victories, there is still a long and difficult road ahead.
I will speak about three crises we have to overcome on this road: gender discrimination, poverty, and our broken healthcare system.
Firstly, let me say this clearly, comrades, we have a serious gender discrimination crisis.
This is a crisis throughout our society and our various cultures. It is a crisis of men who hit or rape women, but also of everyday discrimination – a crisis of men who listen when other men speak, but who do not listen when women speak.
Comrades, this is not just a crisis out there, but also in here, inside TAC.
And even worse than the discrimination against women, is the discrimination against our LGBTQIA comrades.
Let us be clear, TAC has, and will always stand for the full equality of all people irrespective of gender or sexuality. There will be no room for discrimination at this Congress, and there should be no room for discrimination in any TAC branch or in any of our communities.
Let us make overcoming this crisis central to all our work.
Secondly, we continue to have a crisis of poverty in this country. Many of us are poor. Our friends and families are poor. And when you are poor, you can’t always buy food, you can’t afford transport, you can’t afford private healthcare.
Comrades, the crisis of poverty and inequality is at the root of so many of the problems in our country – be it healthcare, education, housing, or sanitation.
As TAC, we must strive for a more equal and a more fair world. This is why it is obvious that we should support National Health Insurance. It will take many years, but ultimately NHI will make us more equal and will bring quality healthcare to more people in this country.
Poverty is also the reason why we must insist on good governance. We cannot afford for the state’s money to be wasted while the people are suffering. We should never turn a blind eye to corruption – whether it be in the public sector or in the private sector, at district, provincial or national level. It is always the poorest of the poor who pay the highest price for corruption and mismanagement.
Thirdly comrades, our clinics are in crisis – and with it much of the public healthcare system.
Posts are being frozen, provinces are running out of money, the National Health Laboratory Service only has enough money until December.
I do not have to tell you about the poor TB infection control, the understaffing, or the medicine stockouts at our clinics or hospitals. We, we the TAC branches, we see these things every day. Our branches are on the frontlines – and it is our branches who can help turn things around. Every branch must hold its local clinic, hospital and school accountable. We must be on the clinic committees, on the hospital boards and on the local and district AIDS Councils.
We must monitor our clinics, as we did with our recent TB infection control survey.
We must tell the stories of our people who are struggling to access decent healthcare.
We must know our rights and we must know the science and treatment of HIV and TB.
Armed with this knowledge, we must hold those in power to account.
Comrades, we won the battle for ARVs, but at the moment we are losing the battle for quality healthcare for all.
At this Congress, we are tasked with making the decisions and electing the leaders who will help us overcome the three crises I have described – of gender discrimination, of poverty, and of our broken healthcare system.
Comrades, we are all part of one TAC. And because we are part of TAC we share certain common values.
- We all want to see an end to all forms of discrimination – be it based on gender, on disability, on how much money you earn, or on your race.
- We all want to see a healthcare system that provides quality healthcare to all who live and work in this country.
- We all want to see a public service that is free of corruption and mismanagement.
- We all know the power and the value of the Constitution and the importance of using it strategically.
There will be disagreements this week. I urge you, let us disagree constructively.
Let us respect all our comrades, and let us listen to the arguments of those who disagree with us.
Let us not be lazy in our thinking, but let us respectfully interrogate both each other and ourselves.
Let us be serious about our task – for lives will depend on the decisions we make this week.
And let us respect TAC’s democratic processes and give the new leadership we will elect this week our full support.
Above all, let us be drawn together by our common purpose.
- Comrades, we know poverty.
- We know the stigma of HIV.
- We know what it feels like to lose a loved one to illness.
- We know what it is like to wait for hours at the clinic, just to be told there are no medicines.
- We know what it feels to have our dignity trampled on.
Let this common knowledge draw us together.
But comrades, in TAC we also know our rights – and our rights continue to be violated every day.
Let this be the congress where we come together and say “NO MORE!”
I thank you.
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