DISTINGUISHED GUEST SPEAKER
Zackie Achmat is a South African activist against aids, and the founder and chairman of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Tac is an organization dedicated to complete and no-cost treatment for HIV-infected South Africans.
Achmat’s political activism began when he was 14 when he convinced several of his older classmates to help burn down their high school, Salt River High, during the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid education. He spent much of the late 1970s in prison for his political activities. In the 1980s he worked within the ANC on education initiatives and publicity campaigns--one event he organized was the first mass ANC funeral, a politically charged eulogy for those who died as a result of the violence between the ANC and the reigning government. In 1990, many years after he had supported himself as a male prostitute, Achmat was diagnosed with HIV. Zackie Achmat, refused to take anti-retroviral medicines until they were made available by the government in public hospitals and clinics.
In the mid-1990s he worked for the legal team that defended the ANC in the aftermath of the March 1994 "Shell House shootings," during which more than a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured in a clash between the ANC and Zulu dissidents. Achmat served briefly as the director of the AIDS Law Project in 1994, but left later that year to found the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality. (He is openly gay.) The organization led the effort to include a clause in the 1996 South African constitution forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Through the efforts of Achmat and the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, a sodomy law was declared illegal and same-sex partners were granted financial and legal status equal to those of married couples.
Achmat received the Desmond Tutu Leadership Award in 2001; the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights in 2003 and in 2004, he was one of the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2003, he was featured as one of "35 Heroes around the world "in Time magazine's European edition.
In 2001 It's My Life, a documentary film about Achmat's struggles, was released and has since been shown at several film festivals. Achmat has also directed a film, Apostles of a Civilised Voice, the culmination of research he conducted while working toward a master's degree at the University of Western Cape in the early 1990s. A history of South African homosexuality, it was released in 1999 and has been screened on South African television stations and at gay-oriented film festivals.
Achmat earned a Bachelor's degree in English and a Masters degree from the University of the Western Cape.