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Zackie Achmat in 2013 at an Open Society Foundation of South Africa event on police accountability in Cape Town.
21 March 1962 |
|Education||Bachelor of Arts, University of the Western Cape|
|Spouse(s)||Dalli Weyers (2008-2010)|
|Parents||Suleiman Achmat and Mymoena Adams|
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.
Achmat was born and grew up in the so-called "Coloured" community in Johannesburg during apartheid, in a Cape Malay Muslim family. As a young student, he once set a fire in his school to force students to join anti-apartheid protests occurring at the time. Achmat joined the ANC and considered himself a Trotskyist.
Solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS
Achmat publicly refused to take AIDS medications until all who needed them had access to them, 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 finally 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 (such as ACT-UP) with the tactics and political networks of South African trade union and anti-apartheid movements.
Achmat is a member of the African National Congress, and has been a supporter of the party since his days as an anti-apartheid organizer. However, he has vigorously opposed the non-mainstream medical views promoted by former President Thabo Mbeki and other senior ANC members. 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.
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. On 16 June 2008, he jointly founded the Social Justice Coalition, an organisation with the aim of promoting the rights enshrined in South Africa's Constitution, particularly amongst poor and unemployed people living in the country. He currently serves as the co-director of Ndifuna Ukwazi, an organisation which aims to build and support social justice organisations and leaders.
Westville Prison incident
On 18 August 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.
Achmat won the inaugural Desmond Tutu Leadership Award in 2001, the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights in 2003, and the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 2003. In 2001, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award for human rights activism by the Czech group People in Need. He was elected an Ashoka Fellow 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 5 January 2008 at a ceremony held in Lakeside, Cape Town that was attended by the then Mayor Helen Zille and presided over by Supreme Court of Appeal judge Edwin Cameron.  In June 2011 the couple divorced amicably.
A TAC Newsletter dated 28 March 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.
- 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa - A book containing Achmat's story
- First National South African AIDS Conference Opens Amid Anger Over Government Decisions on Providing HIV Drugs 4 August 2003
- "Previous Recipients of the Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- Dying To Get AIDS Drugs To All by Peter Hawthorne, TIMEeurope Magazine, 20 April 2003[dead link]
- "Zackie Achmat marries partner". News 24. 6 January 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- BIÉNNE HUISMAN and BUYEKEZWA MAKWABE (12 June 2011). "Zackie's same-sex divorce". Times Live. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Treatment Action Campaign Chair Zackie Achmat's Doctor Says Heart Attack Not Caused by Antiretroviral Medication". The Body.com. 29 March 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Writing Rights Blog The blog of the Centre for Law and Social Justice, founded by Zackie Achmat and Gavin Silber in 2009.
- Samantha Power New Yorker article A profile of Achmat, included in a PBS website.
- Photo of Achmat with Nelson Mandela in a visit to a Médecins Sans Frontières clinic in Khayelitsha, with Mandela and Achmat both wearing TAC's trademark "HIV Positive" t-shirt.
- news article on 2006 arrest