Health Management HIV and AIDS

‘Fire Manto’ campaign gains momentum

Written by Health-e News

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) battle to oust health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has gained backing from six political parties.

On Thursday the chief whips of the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Democrats, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the United Democratic Movement and National Democratic Convention signed a multi party petition appealing to President Mbeki to remove Tshabalala-Msimang from office.

 

On the same day TAC staged defiant sit-ins at government offices in Cape Town as part of its civil disobedience campaign to among others force President Thabo Mbeki to ‘€œFire Manto’€.

 

In an apparent snub to Tshabalala-Msimang and her provincial counterpart Pierre Uys, a representative from the Western Cape premier’€™s office spoke to six TAC women, including its General Secretary Sipho Mthathi, who were staging a sit-in at the Western Cape health department offices in Wale Street. This was after Uys informed the women, via his spokesperson, that he was in Pretoria and had been instructed by Tshabalala-Msimang not to communicate with them and for no officials from his department to meet with them.

 

Mthathi said they only wanted confirmation that a memorandum they had handed to the provincial government last week had been sent on the national health department and the president’€™s office.

 

After several hours of negotiations, while the six women outnumbered by burly security guards and heavily armed policemen, sat on the floor in the foyer of the Wale Street office, a representative from the Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool’€™s office, Laurine Platzky, met with the women and confirmed that they had forwarded the memorandum to the national health department.

 

Tshabalala-Msimang had apparently ordered Uys to bar his officials from speaking to TAC members.

 

At the Department of Correctional Services office, policemen and a cloud of pepper spray met about 15 TAC activists who tried to enter the building.

The crowd dispersed once a government official undertook to give them a reply to their demands next week.

 

Earlier several hundred TAC supporters filled the pews at St George’€™s Cathedral in the Cape Town city centre, singing freedom and struggle songs. Prayer cushions were used as drums as the crowd danced, swayed and toyi-toyied down the aisles of the church that for many years was the meeting place of anti-apartheid activists.

 

Over the past few years the impressive stone church has often served as the rally venue for AIDS activists.

 

‘€œWe know why we are here today,’€ Mthathi told the gathering. ‘€œAcross the world people are standing in solidarity with us. And while we support the government for its progressive policies and we support and applaud the progress government, led by the ANC, has made in transforming South Africa, we condemn the failure of government on AIDS.’€

 

‘€œWe need to ask what has become of our democracy when government deliberately lies and denies people access (to AIDS medicine). What has become of our democracy when the State the people put in power to bring them freedom and hope is the first to unleash its machinery on the people,’€ Mthathi asked.

 

She had severe criticism for Parliament’€™s Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services which in the week condemned efforts by the TAC to get doctors and medicine to critically ill inmates at Westville prison.

 

‘€œInstead of asking Correctional Services for the plan that needs to be in place to save lives, the committee neglects its oversight role,’€ she added.

Mthathi said that while it was commendable that the health department was treating 175 000 people with antiretrovirals, ‘€œthere are 450 000 who need treatment today’€.

 

‘€œWe are asking the president, give us a leader ready to transform our healthcare system characteristic of a free South Africa.’€

 

Mthathi urged TAC supporters who had signed up for the civil disobedience campaign ‘€œto take a properly considered decision’€.

 

‘€œWe do not know if they will shoot us or send dogs after us, but they must know the world is watching. They must know the world is watching and we will not be intimidated by dogs and guns.

 

‘€œWe respect the government as a legitimate government, but we cannot allow it to continue along the path of denial, failure and propaganda,’€ said Mthathi.

 

TAC received support from several quarters including the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, the New Women’€™s Movement, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church and Men as Partners.

 

‘€œWe are asking for ARVs and we are being given lemons. We are asking for ARVs and we are being given garlic,’€ Anglican Reverend Rachel Mash told the crowd.

 

Turning her back towards the crowd to display the writing on the back of her t-shirt: ‘€œIn Christ there is no difference between HIV positive and HIV negative’€, Mash questioned why government treated HIV positive people differently from others.

 

‘€œIf I have diabetes or cancer, must I fight for my medications,’€ she asked to thundering applause.

 

‘€œEnough is enough. Our compassion must now turn to passion. Let us stand together with the TAC and change South Africa,’€ Mash ended.

Protests and further civil disobedience actions are expected to continue next week.

 

The TAC has demanded that President Mbeki and Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka:

  • Convene a national meeting and plan for the HIV/AIDS crisis;
  • End deaths in prisons by providing treatment, nutrition and prevention;
  • Dismiss Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang;
  • Respect the rule of law and the Constitution ‘€“ everyone has a right to life and health;
  • Ensure health for all by building a people’€™s health service

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Health-e News

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