Achmat: Madiba stood with HIV activists

The activist says the former president played a huge role in raising awareness about HIV.

Activist Zackie Achmat. Picture: Zackie Achmat Facebook page.

CAPE TOWN - Activist Zackie Achmat says the late Nelson Mandela gave HIV/Aids activists his support during a period of denialism.

The former statesman passed away peacefully at his Houghton home in Johannesburg on 5 December.

In 2005, Madiba publicly spoke out about HIV for the first time after losing his son Makgatho.

He then began advocating for treatment.

Achmat said Mandela agreed to meet with members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) to hear their grievances.

"He came and it was superb. It was electrifying for comrades. People spoke to him and told him that their struggle was not against the ANC but it was against government policy. He said he was going to take the message to the president."

He said unfortunately, Madiba was met with resistance from within the party.

"The saddest thing that happened was when I learnt of how the NEC [National Executive Committee] and other people treated him. They booed him, telling him to leave the meeting. No one stood up for him. On HIV, Madiba was alone and for me it is in many ways the greatest sign of his courage, greater than what he said during the Rivonia trial."

Achmat said Madiba was willing to defy the party he loved in the fight against the HIV scourge.

"He stood alone against a party he had given his life for. He stood alone in order to save millions of lives. He stood there to protect a group of activists from the poorest townships in around the country. He stood with them."

He also referred to the initial HIV/Aids denialism by the government.

"In 2000, when the TAC organised one of the biggest marches at an Aids conference at that time, we thought our fight was against drug companies, we never thought our fight be against our own government, an ANC government. So the only ANC person of stature that we could get to join us was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and she wore an HIV positive T-shirt."

Mandela later admitted that his efforts to raise awareness about the pandemic were not enough.

HIV activist Lucky Mazibuko, who has been living with HIV for 23 years, recalls the first time he met Tata.

"I met Madiba in 2001 while I was at the Sowetan. I met with him because he wanted me to head his HIV programmes at the Nelson Mandela Foundation so my relationship with him started then."

Mazibuko says working with Madiba helped strengthen the fight against Aids.

"[Working with Madiba] was a great privilege for the simple reason that when you are associated with Madiba, your influence and credibility increases. Your scope of achieving things and making a difference also increases."

He says it was not easy for Madiba to come out about his son's status.

The former statesman's body lies in state for a final day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Mandela will be laid to rest at his rural village of Qunu on Sunday.