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TAC: providing services beyond HIV/AIDS

TAC #1.jpgMandla Majola recounts his experiences at the TAC office in Khayelitsha. Photo by Dan Connell.

By Haley Costen

It's no secret that the United States reacted poorly to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, but South Africans fared worse, both for cultural and political reasons.

Mandla Majola, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) district coordinator in Khayelitsha, experienced this firsthand when his aunt died in 1998. She was thin, weak, and often confused despite being only 50 years old. All the signs pointed to AIDS, but Majola's family disagreed, citing witchcraft as the cause of her death.

HIV/AIDS was looked at as an American or European disease, or something that only people who were gay or promiscuous could contract, according to Majola.

After the end of apartheid in 1994 most people were concerned with freedom and reconciliation. "It was a new South Africa," Majola said. "No one was concerned with HIV."

It was only in the late '90s that HIV became a serious issue, but even when groups began to recognize the disease, there was still opposition from the country's top leaders to providing health care and support to people suffering from it.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, whose iconic image can still be seen on graffiti, T-shirts, posters, and statues throughout the nation 15 years after his presidency, was infamously quiet about the issue of HIV/AIDS until he left office in 1999. Mandela's successor, Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, had a strict strategy of denialism.

Harvard researchers estimate that the number of people who died because of Mbeki's stance that multivitamins and a healthy diet could cure the autoimmune disease, which he insisted was simply due to poverty and ill-nourishment, is at around 300,000.

Majola takes an unforgiving stance on the South African government.

"The ANC liberated us?" he asks quietly, shaking his head. "I beg to differ. Mandela is a saint? I beg to differ."

The Treatment Action Campaign was formed in 1998 to fight for a health care system that provides equal access to HIV prevention and treatment services for all people. They won that battle in 2002 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the government was constitutionally obligated to do so.

Since then they've worked to increase the community's awareness and knowledge of HIV, challenged government services, and provided cheaper antiretroviral (ARV) treatments for patients. However, their work does not stop there.

Majola passionately recounts a number of recent cases that the organization has helped in Khayelitsha, a huge township outside of Cape Town set up under Apartheid for black people forcibly removed from other areas.

When botched surgeries left one woman with a bag on her hip for her bladder and two young people permanently blind, TAC was there to help them seek action against the Department of Health. When a woman was raped and stoned to death by nine men for being a lesbian, TAC saw the case through all six years of trials.

"People are getting this service because they don't have money, don't know their rights, and don't know where to get help," Majola said.

There are around 700,000 people in Khayelitsha, a great portion of them living in tin shacks with no electricity or running water. Unemployment and crime are high, and women and children are often attacked when they go to fields to relieve themselves due to lack of chemical toilets.

When the workers of TAC are not handing out condoms to households or providing awareness classes for the community, they're there to provide social justice to the people of Khayelitsha, a population that seems long forgotten by their own government.

Posted by South Africa Group on May 24, 2014 5:14 AM
Category: South Africa 2014

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