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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, at the International Day of Action Against Pharmaceutical Company Profiteering

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, at the International Day of Action Against Pharmaceutical Company Profiteering

5 March 2001, Outside the United States Embassy, Pretoria

I am deeply honoured to have been asked to speak on behalf of 1,8 million members of COSATU and their families, which runs into several more millions.

We are involved in the most important struggle since we defeated the evil system of apartheid seven years ago. In some respect this war against HIV/AIDS hold the most direct threat to the very freedom we struggled for more than 100 years. That freedom is on the verge of being wiped out as all the people that fought for it and who should benefit from it are about going to die if the Pharmaceutical Companies are have their way in between today and the 13 March 2001.

There is no war that has killed so many millions of people in the Africa and the rest of the developing countries more than the AIDS epidemic. Not even the system of apartheid and all the wars of dispossession combined with the struggle for freedom killed so many people. The HIV/AIDS is like foreign army on rampage maiming and killing thousands of women, men, children and old living behind a trail of absolute destruction. When faced by such an army, our government cannot afford to spend the meagre amounts of money it has been spending on HIV/AIDS for awareness and treatment. Honestly the 43 billion spend on weapons of war should have been spent to buy medicines that will treat those living with HIV/AIDS and poverty relief.

The system of capitalism is once again exposing itself as a brutal, inhuman, anti development, extremely greedy and selfish system ever to be designed by the human kind. So greedy and inhumane is a capitalist system that it allows pharmaceutical companies to literally kill millions of the people in South Africa and throughout by denying them access to drugs that will treat opportunistic diseases that are symptoms of HIV/AIDS in pursuit of narrow profits for a few.

The challenge by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association against the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act is not only a callous act but also shows how easy it is to turn humans against fellow humans by not just keeping others poor bu t by taking steps to prevent them from accessing medicines they can afford in order to save their lives.

At the end it not the machines that owns these pharmaceutical companies, their share holders cannot keep mum when those they employed to generate income for themselves are hiding behind property rights, patent rights and intellectual rights they subject so many millions of the people from the developing countries to such misery. Indeed the system of capitalism and ubuntu are like oil and water they do not mix.

We are appealing to the USA government whilst we know it has spent trillions to enforce this brutal system across the world, to for the sake of our lives prevail on their companies to withdraw this challenge against our governmentís endeavours to save our nation from this catastrophe. We want the USA government to withdraw its complaint at the World Trade Organisation against Brazilís patent legislation.

We are calling on our government to double its efforts as it leads this battalion of over 40 million South Africans. The amounts spent on fighting the diseases as well as treating those already affected must increase dramatically at least to the same level as the amounts we shall spend on the weapons of destruction. The time for the South African government to use its own legislation and issue compulsory licensing to local companies to produce generic drugs. This will not only help with an effective compr ehensive treatment of the millions affected but will help create thousands of new quality jobs for our people. This new investment must be lead by our government, as we can no longer trust private capital as through this case has proven that it seeks to ma ximise profit from the fate of millions who will eventually die. Government must establish the company in partnership with the private sector if this will help process the matter speedily.

We are calling on the Pharmaceutical companies to with draw their legal challenge today. We also want to warn our person that at stake here is our right to life. We are prepared to defend that right with every thing at our disposal. Should this case be dragged by Pharmaceutical Companies to the Constitutional Court, then COSATU on behalf of our people and not just organise workers will submit a section 77 notice in Nedlac granting us a right to protest. And that protest would have to be more than just a day of a national general strike.

Our people must understand that they have a duty to defend themselves from these greedy parasites invading our shores under the name of so called free market and blocking anybody to develop drugs that will help save millions of our peoples lives.