and Mandela calls him a national hero!

The Guardian's series on AIDS has produced an excellent report on a great man.

The man is dying of AIDS, but he refuses to take the drugs that would keep him alive, until South Africa's government makes them freely available to the poor.

Zackie Achmat is not hungry, but tucks into the chocolate cake just the same. South African Achmat is HIV positive, yet refuses to take the antiretroviral drugs that could prolong his life. But he does boost his immune system with protein - with chocolate cake.

Achmat is not a shanty dweller unable to afford the drugs; he is not a so-called "Aids dissident" who believes the drugs are poison; he is not mad, and he is not suicidal. Zackie Achmat, according to Nelson Mandela, is a national hero: an ordinary man whose extraordinary resolve could help save thousands of African lives, at the cost of his own.

At a reception in Johannesburg last week, South Africa's former president turned to Achmat and asked him, with cameras rolling, to take the antiretrovirals. "Give me, as an old man, your promise that you will now take your medicine." Not for the first time, the national hero, dressed as ever in T-shirt and jeans, said no.

A few days later, in a suburban Johannesburg garden, between mouthfuls of cake, he explains why. "It is a personal issue of conscience. I have become middle class but my brothers are working class, and if they were infected they could not afford the medicines."


For a closer and very personal look at AIDS and those living with AIDS, AIDS activism, South Africa, how the world works, and Zackie Achmat, head for the Gramercy Theatre tomorrow, saturday, for a 5:15 showing of Greg Bordowitz's unforgetable film, "Habit."

About this Entry

Published on December 13, 2002 8:10 PM.

previous entry: we hit the trifecta today!

next entry: the Blue Button Project