Zackie Achmat

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Zackie Achmat
Zackie Achmat 2013 (cropped).JPG
Achmat at an Open Society Foundation of South Africa event on police accountability in 2013
Born (1962-03-21) 21 March 1962 (age 60)
Vrededorp, Johannesburg, South Africa
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of the Western Cape
OccupationActivist, film director
EmployerNdifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know)
Known forHIV/AIDS activism
Political partyAfrican National Congress
Board member ofNdifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know)
Equal Education
Spouse(s)Dalli Weyers (m. 2008; d. 2011)
Parent(s)Suleiman Achmat and Mymoena Adams[1]
RelativesTaghmeda "Midi" Achmat (sister)[1]
Achmat speaking at a protest wearing the TAC's trademark "HIV Positive" T-shirt
Achmat protesting in support of freedom of the press and against ANC corruption

Abdurrazack "Zackie" Achmat (born 21 March 1962) is a South African activist and film director.[2][3][4] He is a co-founder the Treatment Action Campaign and known worldwide for his activism on behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa. He currently serves as board member and co-director of Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know),[5] an organisation which aims to build and support social justice organisations and leaders, and is the chairperson of Equal Education.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Achmat was born in the Johannesburg suburb of Vrededorp to a Muslim Cape Malay family and grew up in the Cape Coloured community in Salt River during apartheid.[7][8] He was raised by his mother and his aunt who were both shop stewards for the Garment Workers Union.[4][3]

He did not matriculate but nevertheless graduated with a BA Hons degree in English literature from the University of the Western Cape in 1992 and studied filmmaking at the Cape Town Film School.[2][4][3]

Political activism[edit]

Achmat set fire to his school in Salt River in support of the 1976 student protests and was imprisoned several times during his youth for political activities.[9][10] He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1980 while serving time in prison.[11] Between 1985 and 1990 he was a member of the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC,[3][4] a Trotskyist breakaway group of the ANC and precursor to the Democratic Socialist Movement.[12]

Achmat describes his political ideology as democratic socialist since the unbanning of the ANC in 1990.[11][4] Despite being a member of the ANC, he vigorously opposed the HIV/AIDS denialism promoted by former President Thabo Mbeki and other senior ANC members and in 2004 he withdrew his ANC membership under Mbeki's leadership.[13] In 2006, Achmat called on fellow party members to formulate appropriate HIV policies and oust Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.[2][14][15][16] He has also been outspoken in his criticism of President Jacob Zuma and ANC corruption.[11][13][17]

LGBT rights activism[edit]

Achmat co-founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality in 1994, and as its director he ensured protections for gays and lesbians in the new South African Constitution, and facilitated the prosecution of cases that led to the decriminalisation of sodomy and granting of equal status to same-sex partners in the immigration process.[3][4][8][18][19] Achmat wrote a much-cited article about sexuality in South African prisons, based on his personal experiences.[20]

HIV/AIDS activism[edit]

Before co-founding the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in 1998,[14] Achmat was a director of the AIDS Law Project based out of the University of the Witwatersrand, which is now headed by Achmat'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.[4]

Solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa[edit]

Achmat publicly announced his HIV-positive status in 1998 and refused to take antiretroviral drugs until all who needed them had access to them.[2][8][9] He held firm in his pledge until August 2003 when a national congress of TAC activists voted to urge him to begin antiretroviral treatment. He finally announced that he would start treatment shortly before the government announced that it would make antiretrovirals available in the public sector.[21]

Westville Prison incident[edit]

Achmat was one of 44 TAC activists arrested in 2006 for occupying provincial government offices in Cape Town as a protest in order to call for Health Minister Manto 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 protesters were charged with trespassing 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 antiretroviral drugs. The court ordered the government to provide the drugs immediately.[14][22]

Social justice activism[edit]

In 2008, Achmat co-founded the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), an organisation with the aim of promoting the rights enshrined in South Africa's Constitution, particularly among poor and unemployed people living in the country. In 2009 he co-founded the Centre for Law and Social Justice, subsequently renamed Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know), with Gavin Silber.[1][23]

In 2013, Achmat and 18 other SJC activists were arrested for an illegal gathering outside the Cape Town Civic Centre, where they were protesting about sanitation services in the township of Khayelitsha.[24]

Allegations of sexual harassment cover up[edit]

In 2018, Achmat was accused of intimidating women against speaking about sexual harassment while he was the chair of the board of Equal Education, specifically regarding allegations against Doron Isaacs.[25] Achmat has denied the claims,[26] while also publicly defending Isaacs, stating that he does not believe Isaacs is a sexual predator.

After receiving public criticism, Achmat joined calls for a public inquiry into Equal Education's handling of allegations of sexual misconduct in the organisation.[27] Equal Education[28] appointed retired judge Kathleen Satchwell to head an inquiry into the allegations. The Satchwell inquiry found that the allegations against Achmat and Isaacs were baseless.[29] However, one member of Satchwell's three person inquiry dissented on the basis that she wished to take into considerations the anonymous allegations that were initially rejected by Satchwell due to concerns regarding fairness. There were a total of 19 submissions done and verified through the Women's Legal Centre that were rejected by the commission.[30]

Personal life[edit]

Achmat was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1990.[2][4][31][7] In 2005 he had a heart attack, which his doctor said was unlikely to be caused by his HIV-positive status or treatment. He recovered sufficiently to return to his activism work.[32]

On 5 January 2008, Achmat married his partner and fellow activist Dalli Weyers at a ceremony in the Cape Town suburb of Lakeside. The ceremony was attended by then Mayor Helen Zille and presided over by Supreme Court of Appeal judge Edwin Cameron.[33] The couple divorced amicably in June 2011.[34]




  • Apostles of Civilised Vice (2000) – documentary about homosexuality in South Africa[18]
  • Law and Freedom (2005) – two-part documentary about landmark court cases in South Africa[38][39][40]

Acting (as himself)[edit]

  • Jonathan Dimbleby: The AIDS Crisis in Africa (2002) – presented by Jonathan Dimbleby
  • Kommt Europa in die Hölle? (English: Is Europe Going to Hell?) – directed by Robert Cibis (2004)
  • Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story (2007) – BFI award-winning documentary about Pieter-Dirk Uys directed by Julian Shaw
  • Road to Ingwavuma (2008)
  • Fig Trees (2009)
  • Fire in the Blood (2013)

Recognition and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Mbali, Mandisa (2013). South African AIDS Activism and Global Health Politics. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137258540.
  2. ^ a b c d e Thompson, Ginger (10 May 2003). "In Grip of AIDS, South African Cries for Equity". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e Mbali, Mandisa (2012). "Achmat, Abdurrazack". In Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong; Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (eds.). Dictionary of African Biography, Volumes 1–6. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 83–85. ISBN 9780195382075.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "Witness Statement of Abdurrazack Achmat" (PDF). The Guardian. July 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  5. ^ "Staff". Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know). Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  6. ^ "Equal Education Board". Equal Education. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  7. ^ a b Brummer, Willemien (1 December 2004). "Zackie Achmat: Alive and well". Die Burger. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Davis, Ken (2000). Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon (eds.). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History Vol.2: From World War II to the Present Day. London: Routledge. p. 4. ISBN 9780203994085.
  9. ^ a b Karon, Tony (19 April 2001). "Person of the Week – South African AIDS Activist Zackie Achmat". TIME. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  10. ^ a b Goldacre, Ben (20 January 2007). "No way to treat an Aids hero". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Nicholson, Zara (23 November 2012). "JZ goes or I do – Zackie Achmat". Cape Times. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  12. ^ Thomas, Scott (1996). The Diplomacy of Liberation: The Foreign Relations of the African National Congress since 1960. London: Tauris Academic Studies. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9781850439936. General coverage of the MWT.
  13. ^ a b Nicholson, Zara (19 December 2012). "Mangaung a victory for corrupt – Achmat". Cape Times. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  14. ^ a b c McGreal, Chris (12 September 2008). "Zackie Achmat: Profile". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  15. ^ Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (12 July 2004). "Interview With Zackie Achmat, South African AIDS Activist". Remedy Health Media. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  16. ^ Ismail, Sumayya (30 November 2006). "Zackie Achmat on the future". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  17. ^ Mlandu, Lindiwe (2 December 2013). "Achmat: Impeach and prosecute Zuma". Eyewitness News. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  18. ^ a b Hoad, Neville Wallace; Martin, Karen; Reid, Graeme, eds. (2005). Sex and Politics in South Africa. Cape Town: Double Storey. p. 8. ISBN 9781770130159.
  19. ^ Power, Samantha (19 May 2003). "Letter from South Africa: The AIDS Rebel". The New Yorker: 54. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  20. ^ Achmat, Zackie (1 December 1993). ""Apostles of civilised vice": 'Immoral practices' and 'unnatural vice' in South African prisons and compounds, 1890–1920". Social Dynamics. 19 (2): 92–110. doi:10.1080/02533959308458553. ISSN 0253-3952.
  21. ^ Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (4 August 2003). "First National South African AIDS Conference Opens Amid Anger Over Government Decisions on Providing HIV Drugs". Remedy Health Media. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  22. ^ Maclennan, Ben (18 August 2006). "TAC members arrested after protest". IOL. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  23. ^ "200 Young South Africans 2013 – Gavin Silber". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  24. ^ "TAC's Zackie Achmat arrested in Cape Town". News24. 12 September 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  25. ^ Akoob, Rumana; Allison, Simon; Collison, Carl (18 May 2018). "NGO's sexual harassment woes grow". Mail & Guardian. Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  26. ^ Zulu, Sifiso. "ZACKIE ACHMAT DOESN'T BELIEVE DORON ISAACS IS A SEXUAL PREDATOR". Eyewitness News. Primedia. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  27. ^ Zulu, Sifiso. "Zackie Achmat Wants Inquiry Into Equal Education's Handling of Sex Abuse Claims". Eyewitness News. Primedia. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  28. ^ "Doron Isaacs inquiry: Panel to probe sexual harassment claims named". Independent Online. Independent Online. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  29. ^ "Investigation clears Equal Education co-founder and prominent activist of sexual misconduct and cover-up". News24. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  30. ^[bare URL PDF]
  31. ^ Gill, Peter (2010). Body Count: How they turned AIDS into a catastrophe. London: Profile Books. ISBN 9781847651082.
  32. ^ Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (29 March 2005). "Treatment Action Campaign Chair Zackie Achmat's Doctor Says Heart Attack Not Caused by Antiretroviral Medication". The Remedy Health Media. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  33. ^ "Zackie Achmat marries partner". News24. 6 January 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  34. ^ Huisman, Biénne; Makwabe, Buyekezwa (12 June 2011). "Zackie's same-sex divorce". Times LIVE. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  35. ^ Nolen, Stephanie (2007). 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. New York: Walker & Co. ISBN 9780802715982.
  36. ^ "Fig Trees: a video opera". Oakville galleries. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  37. ^ "Fire in the Blood – The Contributors". Archived from the original on 17 October 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  38. ^ Deane, Nawaal (11 February 2005). "Will SABC screen doccie?". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  39. ^ "Law and Freedom part 1 – Who was Mrs Komani?". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  40. ^ "Law and Freedom part 2 – A nice country". Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  41. ^ a b c d "Zackie Achmat gets international award". Mail & Guardian. 29 May 2003. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  42. ^ "Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Archived from the original on 22 October 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  43. ^ "National Press Club nominates Zackie Achmat and TAC as Newsmakers for 2003". 15 February 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  44. ^ "Zackie Achmat". Ashoka. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  45. ^ Hawthorne, Peter (20 April 2003). "Dying To Get Aids Drugs To All". TIME. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  46. ^ Morrison, James (22 April 2003). "Achmat's struggle takes him into world spotlight". IOL. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  47. ^ "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". 27 September 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  48. ^ "Achmat nominated for Nobel Peace Prize". Mail & Guardian. 2 December 2003. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  49. ^ "Zackie Achmat". OSF. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  50. ^ Marx, Fritz (28 April 2011). "Cape Town honours Zackie Achmat and others". Politicsweb. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  51. ^ "Zackie Achmat". City of Cape Town. Retrieved 29 December 2013.

External links[edit]