It’s a testament to how far we’ve come as a country that many doctors now say they’d rather have HIV than Diabetes, because HIV is an easier chronic disease to manage. Today, South Africa has the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world, with millions of people living healthy, long lives, by simply taking one pill a day.
Just two decades ago, the picture was very different. People were stigmatised, government was in denial, and HIV medication was reserved for the rich and privileged. The Treatment Action Campaign was launched on the steps of Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral in 1998, as a response to the injustices of all this, and their first campaign demanded the provision of ARV’s for HIV-positive mothers to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
AIDS Activism was born.
The TAC can be credited for many of the gains we’ve made. The likes of Zackie Achmat fought for access to life-saving drugs, fought the pharmaceutical companies who had the monopoly and could inflate prices, and challenged the disastrous government-endorsed AIDS denialism of the Mbeki-era.
Finally, in 2004, government rolled out free ARV’s in the public sector, saving millions of lives.
It’s very apt that twenty years after the formation of the TAC, and on the eve of World AIDS Day, one of its foot soldiers has been honoured with a prestigious international prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola, who today is the Director of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management at Stellenbosch University, was one of 15 recipients worldwide of the 2018 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
Her credentials in the HIV movement speaks for itself. Vuyiseka joined the HIV movement when she was 22 after testing HIV positive in 2001. She began her activist life as a volunteer of the Treatment Action Campaign and was instrumental in building TAC branches in the Klipfontein district in Cape Town. She became an employee, tasked to build the TAC’s Prevention and Treatment literacy programme, which she led for six years as a programme coordinator for the province. Over the years she rose as a strong leader to finally be elected as the General Secretary in 2008. In 2012 she was re-elected.
Dubula-Majola remains humble and has paid tribute to the many people before her who has made it possible for her and others to be alive today. She has dedicated the award to all human rights defenders.
“It is always humbling as an activist to get recognition. This award is a collective gratitude to those who speak truth to power.”
Her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and working toward interventions that will reduce transmission, continue.
Her leadership at the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management will ensure that our future leaders are ready to deal with the new challenges to manage HIV, and ensure that South Africa reaches the UN endorsed goals of 90-90-90 by 2020: To have 90% of all persons tested, 90% of all HIV-positive persons on ARV’s, and to see that 90% of all those on treatment are virally suppressed, by 2020.
Dubula-Majola has also been included in the book ‘A to Z of Amazing South African Women’, a publication that honours the contribution of women to South Africa’s past, present and future. Other names in the book include Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Fatima Meer, Caster Semenya, Natalie du Toit and Thuli Madonsela.
In the book they refer to Dubula-Majola as a “heroine for our times” – someone who has defied all the odds and is still working actively to improve the situation.
“I welcome challenges. That is how we grow.”