Treatment Action Campaign members threatened on Wednesday to blockade an
auditorium at Parliament when they were barred from attending a presentation by
health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
The TAC members, who included the organisation's chairman Zackie Achmat, were
eventually allowed in after spirited intervention by Pan Africanist Congress MP
Patricia de Lille.
"It's just like the old days. Nothing has changed," she said angrily.
Tshabalala-Msimang was chairing a briefing for parliamentary media by ministers
from Cabinet's social cluster, and her presentation included several references
However police prevented about 10 TAC members, most of them wearing "HIV
Positive" T-shirts, from entering the auditorium.
The group stayed outside the closed glass doors, singing and dancing, as Achmat
promised a senior health ministry official that they would be "dead quiet" if
they were allowed inside.
"If they don't let us in we're going to get arrested here today because we won't
allow anyone out," he said.
Government communications official Colin Cruywagen first told them they would be
allowed in once the minister had finished her presentation, then, after renewed
protest, allowed them in while she was still speaking.
Government Communication and Information Service chief director for media
liaison Mdu Lembede said later it appeared there had been a misunderstanding,
and that he had been told by police that the TAC members had wanted to
demonstrate during the briefing.
"I said we could not allow that," he said.
Tshabalala-Msimang said she had not been aware they were excluded.
"As far as I am concerned they are most welcome to come her...
My view would have been that they should have been allowed right from the start.
This is an open meeting."
She said the TAC representatives might have learned from her presentation that
there was a treasury and Department of Health task team engaged looking at the
cost implications of anti-retroviral treatment for people with HIV/Aids.
TAC has threatened civil disobedience if the government does not come up with a
Tshabalala-Msimang said government realised it needed to communicate adequately
with the public "and it is exactly what we intend to do".
"We are going to be issuing out statements that indicate what government has
done thus far with regards to our response to HIV and Aids.
"We think once our people have understood what government has been doing and
what government intends to do, yes they will know that this government cares."