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A New Leader

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Zackie Achmat calls himself a movement builder, political activist and law reformer. He challenged and changed the horrifying AIDS negation by Thabo Mbeki of the ANC. Harvard reports that more than 330 000 people died prematurely from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005 due to the Mbeki obstruction, and at least 35 000 babies were born with HIV infections that could have been prevented. Now Zackie wants to be South Africa’s first independent Member of Parliament and fight criminals. He is standing as an independent candidate for the National Assembly in 2024. The activist explains why.


In December 1998, 15 comrades and I stood on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town to launch the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Our purpose was to ensure that government provide antiretroviral drugs to pregnant mothers to prevent HIV transmission. TAC also demanded that drug companies make ARVs affordable to every person living with HIV. At that time one month’s ARVs cost between R4 500 and R10 000. Those who could afford it were becoming sick and bought medicines and lived, while poorer people died.

Former president Thabo Mbeki said he did not know anyone with HIV. Millions were infected with HIV, became ill and died as a result of the president denying our rights to life and health. Could TAC win?

We consulted experts and researched. We educated ourselves. We organised. We campaigned, wrote letters, marched, and we went to court taking on the government and drug companies. TAC was forced to conduct civil disobedience. As a result of this work, the country now has a universal ARV programme with more than five million people on treatment.

On 27 March 2023, I was again joined by my comrades on the steps of St George’s Cathedral to launch Zackie2024, my campaign to become an independent Member of Parliament (MP) in next year’s general election. I chose St. George’s Cathedral then and now because it is a symbol of how parliament has failed our people.


A BROKEN COUNTRY

Today, the state is broken. As the lights go out, women hear their babies cry because they are scared of the dark or they are hungry. Government has destroyed virtually every state institution including Eskom, PRASA, Transnet and municipalities. In many provinces drinking water is unsafe. The statistics are staggering and the impact of a collapsing infrastructure, failing public services, and an ailing economy on people cannot be measured.

Remembering the story of the mom travelling on Metrorail to Ocean View after receiving dialysis at Groote Schuur Hospital – she was assaulted by robbers and pushed off the train. Recently a three-year-old girl reportedly died after the inverter powering her breathing machine ran out of charge because of loadshedding. Graduates stand at traffic lights begging for jobs. We can’t stand by and watch as the state continues to be captured and destroyed. We must fix the state.


THE NEXT ELECTION

Earlier this year the Electoral Act was amended. The Constitutional Court found that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional because it did not make provision for individuals to be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. This set in motion the reform of the Electoral Bill and the signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill which now allows, for the first time, individuals who are not associated with political parties to stand as candidates for elections into legislatures and the National Assembly. This means in the next election voters will have the option of voting for a person, rather than a political party on their constituency ballot.

Now I can stand as an individual candidate for Parliament without having to form or join a party. The ANC has almost made it impossible for independents to win. Many people have asked me why I don’t put my weight behind one of the new parties or create my own party.

My answer is simple: I want to take the “party politics” out of politics. Party promises have come to nought. The internal party machinations have resulted in incompetent cadre deployment. Party politics protect the corrupt and shield the racist. MPs toe the party line instead of serving the people who elected them. Poor party performance has led to voter apathy and widespread pessimism putting democracy in peril.


ALTERNATIVE LEADERSHIP

I am an alternative. I try to live my life with integrity. Yes, I am an individual without the support of the party structure, but I have 40+ years of experience in building movements; 40+ years of experience of working with people to hold government and corporations accountable. As part of my campaign and beyond, we are building a movement of people, who are active, educated on the issues, and capable of using the various mechanism of state, law, and struggle to fix the state.

If you elect me to parliament, my intention is to serve on one of the committees that oversees government expenditure: Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), the Standing Committee on Finance, or Standing Committee on Appropriations. If we want to fix the state, we must follow the money. State Capture, corruption, nepotism, ‘tenderpreneurs’, and mismanagement have cost the country hundreds of billions of rands. Money that should have ensured adequate service delivery, infrastructure upgrade and contributed to economic growth. The triad of committees, one of which I hope to serve on, oversee the financial statements of all government departments and state institutions, government audit reports and expenditure review. By serving on one of these committees I hope to bring greater transparency to the committee proceedings and demand that those who steal and misspend are held to account.

In a recent radio interview, EFF leader Julius Malema said that if elected, I will see that Parliament is a boring and lonely place for one man.”

But I say to him: I am ready to do the boring work of parliament with a movement outside. I will review accounts, reports, and statements with communities. You and I will demand testimony, and documents, and conduct inspections to help ensure we root out corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence. I will work with you to name corrupt companies, officials, and politicians to ensure the culprits face the law. We will also support and celebrate good government officials.

I will seek out and work with other MPs of integrity. I will also help open parliament to the people, not just to those who elected me but to all the victims of this broken state. I believe we can and will #FixTheState.


Words by Zackie Achmat

This article was first published on The Big Issue, on 26 June 2023.


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