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Publication Details

Reference
Mbali, Mandisa  (2004) TAC in the history of rights-based, patient-driven
HIV/AIDS activism in South Africa. Centre for Civil Society : 1-31.

Summary
Over five million South Africans today are HIV positive.1 In post-apartheid era, the AIDS policy-making process has been characterised by a well-documented conflict between AIDS activists aligned with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the government over government denialism and access to HIV treatment.2 Contemporary AIDS activists aligned to the TAC have framed their struggle for HIV treatment access in terms of the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS: that access to such life-saving combination antiretroviral drug treatment for all HIV positive people is a human right in as much as it fulfils their rights to life and the socio-economic right to access to health care. As a result of the TACís campaign, in September 2003 the South African Cabinet instructed the health ministry to develop a comprehensive HIV treatment and prevention plan. The government has now begun to roll-out HIV treatment at public health care facilities across South Africa. TAC is now in many ways seen as a successful example of civil society pushing for government policy to reflect socio-economic rights in the postapartheid era.

What has received less attention is the ways in which the history of HIV/AIDS activism in late apartheid and transition South Africa has fundamentally shaped TACís strategies, tactics and use of rights-based rhetoric in the post- partheid era. This paper explores two ways in which the history of AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s has politically shaped TAC. Firstly, it examines the influence of Ďpatient drivení, anti- apartheid, gay rights activism on TAC. Secondly, it looks at how the early openness of gay rights activists living with HIV has shaped TACís work against HIV-related stigma and its creation of a large and visible constituency of HIV positive people demanding their rights. Despite these historical legacies of AIDS activism of the late 1980s and early 1990s for TAC in the present, since TACís formation in 1998 it has drawn upon distinctly postapartheid democratic institutions such as a free press and the Constitutional Court to forward its goal of HIV treatment access for all, as the third section of this paper argues. Similarly, the reality of TACís gains in pushing for wider access to HIV treatment using the language of socio-economic rights poses wider theoretical questions about the potential power and meaning of the liberal discourse of human rights, when used by new social movements to fight for socio-economic justice in post-apartheid South Africa.

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