Zackie Achmat

| birth_place = Johannesburg, Gauteng | death_date = | death_place = | education = Bachelor of Arts, University of the Western Cape | occupation = HIV/AIDS activist | spouse = Dallie Weyers-Achmat (married on January 5, 2008) | parents = Suleiman Achmat and Mymoena Adams | children = | religion = Atheist }}

Zackie Achmat (born Abdurazzack Achmat in 1962) is a South African activist, most widely known as founder and chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and for his work on the behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa.

Early life

Achmat was born and grew up in the so-called "Coloured" community in Cape Town during apartheid, in a Cape Malay Muslim family (though his father was technically of Indian extraction, tracing his roots to Gujarat). At the age of 14, he set fire to his school during the period of the Soweto Uprising to force his fellow students to boycott classes. He was arrested and tried in each of the years between 1976 and 1980.

A TAC Newsletter dated March 28, 2005 reported that Achmat suffered a heart attack four days earlier, but that he was recovering well and would take time off before returning to his work. He has since resumed his work as an activist.


The TAC which was founded by Achmat, has become the most well-known and successful AIDS activist group in South Africa, and makes its mission to ensure that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. It focused initially on access to medicine for those who could not afford private health care by taking on government policies and brand-name pharmaceutical companies. After scoring major victories against both, it has broadened its outlook to improving all aspects of health care provision and particularly with the implementation of an anti-retroviral program in the public health sector.

The TAC's notoriety and success is in no small part due to the dynamism of Achmat. A former anti-apartheid and gay rights activist, Achmat was skillful in marshalling the support of existing activist networks and mobilizing a grassroots membership to work in the community level, as well as employing classic anti-apartheid tactics such as civil disobedience.

Solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS

Achmat publicly refused to take AIDS medications until all who needed them had access to them, which drew former President Nelson Mandela to plead with Achmat at his home to begin drug therapy. Achmat respectfully refused Mr Mandela, and held firm in his pledge until August 2003 when a national congress of TAC activists voted to urge him to begin taking his medicines; he announced that he would start shortly before the government announced that it would make antiretrovirals available in the public sector. TAC is unique among AIDS activist groups for combining some of the tactics and political networks of the sort of AIDS activism that started in US and European gay communities in the 1980s (e.g., ACT-UP) with the tactics and political networks of South African trade union and anti-apartheid movements. And no one embodies that unique blend of influences better than Achmat himself.


Achmat is a card-carrying member of the African National Congress, and has been a supporter of the party since his days as an anti-apartheid organizer. This leaves him in the ironic position of protesting and criticizing the party he helped to put into power, as President Thabo Mbeki, Achmat's long-time nemesis, is leader of the ANC and head of government. In 2006, Achmat called on fellow party members to formulate appropriate HIV policies and oust Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Between 1985 and 1990 Achmat was a member of the Trotskyist grouping, the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC, the South African section of the Committee for a Workers' International. He was the first member of the tendency to be recruited inside South Africa and played a leading role in establishing its underground structures in the country during the last years of apartheid.

Other work

He founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, and as its director in the early 1990s he ensured protections for gays and lesbians in the new South African Constitution, and prosecuted cases that led to the decrimilization of sodomy and granting of equal status to same-sex partners in the immigration process. Before starting the TAC, he was a director of the AIDS Law Project based out of the University of the Witwatersrand, which is now headed by Zackie's longtime collaborator Mark Heywood. The AIDS Law Project and TAC work closely together in all the legal matters that arise in the course of advocating for the right to health, including prosecuting cases and defending TAC volunteers.

Westville Prison incident

On August 18, 2006, Achmat was one of 44 TAC activists arrested for occupying provincial government offices in Cape Town as a protest in order to call for Minister Tshabalala-Msimang and Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour to be charged with culpable homicide for the death of an HIV-positive inmate at Westville Prison in Durban. The protestors were charged with trespass and ordered to appear before court. The inmate was one of 15 prisoners who were plaintiffs in a case against the departments of health and correctional services, suing to be provided access to anti-retroviral medicines. The court ordered the government to provide the medicines immediately, but the government has since appealed the decision and the interim order.


In 2001, Achmat won the inaugural Desmond Tutu Leadership Award, the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2003, and the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 2003. He was elected an in 2003, and he was named one of TIMEeurope's "Heroes of 2003". In 2004, he was voted 61st in the Top 100 Great South Africans, as well as being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a U.S. Quaker humanitarian group, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).


Achmat married long time partner and fellow activist, Dalli Weyers, on January 5, 2008 at a ceremony held in Lakeside, Cape Town.


External links

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