Section 27, Save SA and Unite Against Corruption activist Mark Heywood has written a book about the fight for social justice in the country. In this extract, he returns to 2003 to recount the terrible toll of Aids and the war between the Treatment Action
There was a lot of pain back in those days.
The terrible physical pain and emotional puzzlement as to why treatment for Aids would be withheld from activists like Edward Mabunda and Christopher Moraka, and tens of thousands of others, are not understood or felt by the apologists for Aids denialism. Aids was clothed in stigma and fear, so many did not see its terrible human toll. You had to be with me on the frontline to witness the pain. Members of the TAC, particularly its leadership, observed so many deaths that we might as well have been living through a war. I was witness to the carnage; I remember walking through graveyards after burying another TAC member, looking at freshly dug mound after freshly dug mound, mostly of young people and infants, the cemetery no sooner vacated by one group of mourners than it was filled by another. Traffic jams to bury the dead.
This is not something understood by those who, like the Reverend Frank Chikane, wish to reinvent president Thabo Mbeki as a global statesman. In fact, it’s not just that it’s not understood: it’s overlooked or forgiven. Mbeki may be urbane, intelligent and suave. But the fact remains that he has got off scot-free. A peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome has recorded the cost of his embrace of Aids denialism: “More than 330 000 lives or approximately 2.2 million personyears were lost because a feasible and timely ARV treatment programme was not implemented in South Africa. Thirty-five thousand babies were born with HIV, resulting in 1.6 million person-years lost by not implementing a mother-to-child transmission prophylaxis programme using nevirapine. The total lost benefits of ARVs are at least 3.8 million person-years for the period 2000 to 2005.” That record cannot be expunged. It will be there until the end of time. It must never be forgotten or forgiven.
Treatment Action Campaign activists continue to fight for antiretrovirals to be freely available in all communities