Working for access to quality public healthcare in South Africa since 1998
10 December 2017

Where are our rights this International Human Rights Day?

– TAC moves into 20th year, health activism needed more than ever

JOHANNESBURG, 10th DECEMBER 2017 – Today on International Human Rights Day, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) moves into our 20th year. The government-led AIDS denialism that marked the early years of TAC’s struggle may be over, but denialism about our social crisis and the collapse of our healthcare system has replaced it. Corruption, incompetence, unaccountability and greed means many parts of the public healthcare system are dysfunctional, mismanaged and plagued by maladministration – threatening to unravel the HIV and TB response and put millions of lives, of mainly poor people, at risk. It is no secret that people are dying. But they die in dirty abandoned hospital wards, in dark and dingy rooms and while waiting for ambulances that never come. Mostly out of sight. TAC’s job is to make sure that their deaths are seen and heard and that those responsible are held accountable.

TAC members and people in mostly poor communities where we work bear the brunt of the dysfunction. We are put at risk of TB and drug resistant TB in our clinics, as documented in our TB infection control survey of 158 facilities carried out earlier this year. We suffer with long queues, medicines stockouts, and the increasing shortage of healthcare workers – as exposed in our primary healthcare survey of 254 clinics in November. We face endless horrors in moments of vulnerability at hospitals – as showcased in a recent fact-finding mission across four provinces. We were faced with horrific stories of suffering, death and abuse in the Life Esidimeni tragedy and a lack of accountability from those responsible. Critical shortages of equipment and specialists are worsening the cancer response. Medicines prices remain extortionate due to slow reforms to patent laws that continue to protect capitalists at the expense of people’s lives. Money meant to build health systems for our poor are instead going into the pockets of shady tenderpreneurs and those close to corrupt power. Government Ministers buy fancy cars while our communities have no ambulances. Our elected leaders use private healthcare while we are left at the mercy of a buckling public health system.

23 years after democracy and it has become increasingly clear to us that the lives and the dignity of poor people is something our government has lost interest in – an inconvenience to which they pay lip service when they want votes, but turn a blind eye to.

“We insist on good governance. TAC will never turn a blind eye to corruption at any level. We cannot afford for the state’s money to be wasted while our people are suffering. We know it is always the poorest of the poor who pay the highest price for corruption and mismanagement,” said Anele Yawa, TAC General Secretary.

“TAC is watching the ANC elective conference very closely with the hope that the new leadership that emerges breaks from the corrupt traditions of the Zuma administration. To be taken seriously the new leadership must end political appointments and cadre deployment. The thieves and crooked politicians that TAC has exposed over the years should be removed from their seats of power. They should be in prison, not protected in positions of power. The ANC must remember that the majority of their own branch members and their potential voters are users of the same system that they are failing to fix. If they don’t care about the people now, why should the people care about them in 2019?”

Our Constitutional right to health is being violated

21 years ago today, the South African Constitution was signed. TAC’s work continues to be deeply grounded in the Constitution – in the rights it recognises, in the obligations it imposes on the state and the private sector, and in its recognition of the importance of the rule of law to good governance, accountability and service delivery. Yet each day our rights and dignity are being trampled on.

“We start queueing at clinics at 3 or 4am, only to wait all day, to never be seen. We get to the facility, only to be sent home empty handed without the medicines we need. We get shouted at by nurses. Our files are lost. We are sent to open police case files before being treated in emergencies. Ambulances either take hours or never arrive. We use unclean pit latrine toilets without any doors while waiting for health services. We wait weeks or months for the results of pap smears and other tests. There are not enough beds in our hospitals and we sleep on the floors. The clinic committees and hospital boards we rely on to solve these problems either don’t exist, don’t know what they should do, or have only been put in position to satisfy political alignments.”

Moving into our 20th year, TAC will redouble our efforts at training ourselves and members of our communities on these Constitutional rights. We will continue to campaign, guided by our commitment to human dignity and the rights enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa.

“We can’t separate HIV and TB from inequality, patriarchy, rape, violence, corruption. But for as long as there is a strong TAC, there is hope. Not only for people with HIV and TB, but for people who are poor and unequal. We have come a very long way since TAC was founded on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on 10th December 1998. While we have had many victories in the courts, in the streets and in our hospitals and clinics that have improved the lives of our members and poor communities – the crisis in our public healthcare system is only getting worse.”

“The battle for quality healthcare for all is at a crucial stage. The next five years could be as hard as when we were fighting AIDS denialism. The second phase of TAC’s struggle is for quality healthcare delivered through a well-functioning healthcare system where the dignity of all is respected and nobody is excluded. This struggle is on the frontlines – in our clinics and hospitals. It is in holding our MECs accountable. We won’t stay quiet while our rights are being suppressed – and if our demands are not met, we will be forced to step up our advocacy and even embark on civil disobedience as in the past. Enough is enough! We want liberation now. If we are left with no choice, we will occupy streets, offices and facilities until we get quality healthcare and dignity for all.” 



For more information contact:

Lotti Rutter | | 072 225 9675