On Wednesday 14th I went to listen to a lecture by the legendary South African HIV+ activist Zackie Achmat organized by the Monument Trust at the National Gallery, London.
Zackie was a founder of Treatment Action Campaign the South African activist group that took drug companies to court and made them either reduce the price of HIV medications or allow South African governament to overcome patent rights and buy cheaper generic drugs.
During this battle Zackie, who could have afforded to buy treatment, refused to take it, and nearly died. He was saying: ‘Until everybody will have access to treatment in South Africa, I will not take it’. It is very rare nowadays to find this level of commitment in action.
TAC continues being at the chore of the SA response to HIV. Supporting the community in developing treatment literacy and campaigning and negotiating with the Big Pharma for more options and better drug quality. TAC has more then 20.000 volunteers and 60% of them are black women from some of the poorest sections of society in South Africa.
Zackie lecture centered on the state of education in South Africa. Its focus wasn’t HIV, even if HIV was mentioned several times.
During the Q & A at the end of the lectures, one of my colleagues asked Zackie to speak about the process of becoming an activist. What are the important elements? He pointed out three things (what follow is a summary in my own words):
1) Principle. As an activist you have to have a strong commitment to your values.
2) Taking risks. You need to take risks. Know when and how to do it in order to be most effective.
3) Self education. You need to educate yourself. Read. Keep informed.