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Friedman Steven & Mottiar Shauna  (2005) A Moral to the Tale: The Treatment Action Campaign and the Politics of HIV/AIDS (Short version). Centre for Civil Society  Research Report 27: 1-32.

In 2001, when multi-national corporations were eant to be invincible, demonstrators pressured international pharmaceutical firms, represented by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PMA), into abandoning court action to prevent the government importing cheaper generic medicines (TAC Statement, 24.04.01).

In late 2003, the government sanctioned a plan to distribute anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) to people living with HIV/AIDS, a course of action it had resisted (TAC News Service 2003).

The common thread between the events was the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). It had been responsible for the 2001 demonstrations and also played a pivotal role in a campaign to win access to ARVs for people infected with HIV and AIDS. The second victory helped confirm TAC’s iconic status internationally and at home. It and its chair, Zackie Achmat, have received several awards and have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (TAC News Service 2003b). TAC has also been cited repeatedly as a model of a social movement which has won gains for its constituency: it was said to have served as a model for a campaign by the SA Council of Churches and National Land Committee for the expropriation of land from absentee landlords (Kindra, 2001).

Is TAC a model for other social movements? Are its methods effective? Has it developed ways of winning gains which could be adopted by others demanding social equity? And does TAC offer an approach which enables the poor to claim the rights promised by democratic citizenship?

These questions have ramifications well beyond the –important – question of how people infected with HIV/AIDS can be heard and can claim a respected place in society. Unlike a previous wave of democratisation, the current international spread of democracy has not reduced social inequality. A key reason is that the poor have been unable to use democratic rights to win policies which might reduce inequality because classic forms of organisation, such as trade unionism, are less effective, as changes in the labour market exclude the poor from the formal workplace (Friedman, 2002).

There is, therefore, a pressing need for approaches which enable the poor and weak to use democratic freedoms to win greater equity.

Given its status as a model, TAC’s experience may shed light on possibilities for effective social activism in current circumstances. This paper is a modest attempt to examine that experience. It examines TAC, its history, characteristics and strategies, in an attempt to suggest implications for ways in which democracy can also yield greater social and economic equity.

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