|Biographical detail : ||South Africa’s activist
Ethnically Malaysian, Zackie Achmat set fire to his school, in Johannesburg, using direct action when he was only 14. He felt his fellow pupils at his “coloured”, or mixed-race, school were not sufficiently supportive of the anti-apartheid education boycott. He spent three months in prison after the school fire. He had been in and out of jail four times for political activities.
Still using direct action, recently his struggle has focussed on liberating South Africa’s poor from what amounted to the death sentence of Aids. He discovered he was HIV-positive. He founded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), in 1998, as a direct challenge to Mbeki’s (of the ruling African National Congress) outlandish views on the causes of Aids and his refusal to provide conventional treatment through public health service even though South Africa had one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates.
TAC began campaigning to force drugs companies to lower their prices. Big US and European manufacturers charged several times the cost of generics from India and pressured the South African government to block imports of the cheaper drugs.
Achmat challenged the ban by flying to Thailand to buy fluconazole, a treatment for thrush, at 4p a capsule. Pfizer was selling its patented version in South Africa for more than £5 a capsule. Achmat was arrested for illegally importing drugs but the publicity forced Pfizer to donate the drugs for free to public hospitals in South Africa, setting off price cuts for anti-Aids drugs. The greatest impact has been that it shamed the South Africa’s government and finally providing the life-saving drugs to the poor.
In 2006, he was arrested for occupying government offices to demand the minister and others to be charged with culpable homicide over the death of an HIV-positive prisoner who was denied antiretroviral drugs.