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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Joyce Pekane, COSATU 2nd Vice President, to the International Conference on HIV/AIDS

9 July 2000

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you all to this historic occasion on behalf of not only the 1.8 million members of COSATU, but also on behalf of all the working people of South Africa and the entire working class in our country. It is the working class in our own country and around the world that bear the harshest effect of global policies that has no regard for the lives of the ordinary people, this inhumane system that puts profits before all else. We come here today not only to strengthen the global solidarity emerging around the world to the call of people before profits but also to stake the just claim of affordable health care in South Africa.

Where people are engaging on the issues that confront us we must ensure that it the real issues in that area are considered and that is why we are here to tell the world that it is about saving the life of an unborn child and extending and improving the life of a mother that must be the deciding factor in defining our policies.

It is the poor of Africa and the world that are shouting out that we are tired of being expendable, marginalized and ignored, and that is the claim that we are making here today.

Thus far our own efforts have focused on the following:

  • Education and awareness: here we are trying to ensure that the message of aids and HIV awareness goes out to the length and breath of our country. And here our joint efforts have achieved amazing success.
  • Prevention has taken the form of promoting safe sex through the distribution of condoms and changed social practices.
  • Treatment: it is in this area that we are confronted by our greatest challenge, because while the technological progress of humanity has found many methods of treatment these medicines are denied to the majority of people because of excessively high costs. It is here that we see the real violence of poverty.
  • Ensuring an end to discrimination: We have made many strides at defending people against discrimination, both through legislation and agreements at the workplace.

The socio economic environment within South Africa, shaped by decades of apartheid and colonial exploitation has brought about a situation where because of the nature of work many workers have a greater risk of exposure to the disease. Amongst these are sex workers, workers in single sex hostels, migrant workers and truck drivers. The brutality of unemployment and poverty brings about conditions where the disease has moved along unchecked.

These conditions affect all people in our country but some are more vulnerable than others. Amongst these, woman are the most drastically affected by the epidemic as a result of the unequal power relations and the fact that many men are still stuck with their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the management of the epidemic .For any campaign to be successful it must take special account of the situation that woman find themselves in.

The debt crisis experienced by many African countries contribute to the devastating impact that the disease has because these countries cannot allocate resources that are needed to combat the epidemic, rather theses countries resources are forced into serving debt repayments. The writing off of debt is a central part of the battle as we can no longer have a situation where those who have no responsibility, like unborn children have to pay the cost because of inadequate health care.

The tears of a mother, a lover, a child a caring compassionate health worker must shine like a beacon in directing our attention and our focus to what must be a priority need in our health care system and in our society.

There comes a time in the life in any nation when it must give up or stand and fight, we have no choice, we live with the epidemic everyday, we must stand and fight. We are standing and we are ready to fight for the value of life and the equality of all people in a world that shows no justice. This fight must be directed at the following areas:

We must confront our government to provide adequate health care and access to the medicines required to promote a reprieve from this disease. It must allocate the countries resources to this area, this after all is more of a priority than purchasing arms. It would seem there is more of an investment in the tools of death and destruction that the resources needed to promote health and good life.

The international rules of trade have destroyed our industries and wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs causing unemployment and poverty in South Africa and the third world at large. Now these same rules seek to prescribe to us that we should not buy drugs to treat aids from those countries who would supply them the cheapest. These measures that have reduced the third world to servitude whilst making huge profits for multi-national corporations like Glaxo-Wellcome, Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies. We will insist that our government rejects rules of trade that put profits before the lives of people. There can be no greater indication of the greed of humanity and the disregard for human life than that demonstrated by these companies and the governments where they originate from.

This campaign is about the power to change the international paradigm.

This campaign is about restoring the world's sense of humanity and justice.

This campaign is about affordable drugs to treat our mothers our lovers and our children.

There is no doubt that Aids kills. There is no doubt that poverty kills. It is these twins of misery when they work together that is responsible for the absolute devastation that we see across Africa. Our Campaign must be designed to defeat both, through providing drugs and treatment and distributing more equitably the resources of our country to immediately reduce poverty. It is the inequality in our country that undermines our potential. It is the over- abundance of the one that is responsible for the abject poverty of the other.

This march raises the flag against the marginalisation and exploitation of those who are afflicted and affected by the disease through no fault of their own because like the plagues that have gone before our response should be one of humanity united in solidarity to overcome this for the sake of humanity. We will not allow a situation where some can profit from the misery of others. We have come here to tell this international Aids conference that there will not be business as usual, there will not be profits as usual, there must be a change. We have come here to demonstrate our commitment to that change and to fight for that change.

We will overcome.