Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 35 Nos. 2

AIDS Activism and Globalisation from Below: Occupying New Spaces of Citizenship in Post-apartheid South Africa

Published on 1 April 2004

Former President Nelson Mandela, Bono, Peter Gabriel and other superstars stood together on the stage at Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town in front of billions of television viewers around the world, watching the “46664”music extravaganza in support of the fight against AlIDS in Africa.

AIDS is clearly a global pandemic and responses to it have inevitably been on a global scale. At the same time, the disease has highly localised aspects to it. AIDS activists have had to address both the global dimensions and the local specificities of this epidemic.

This article focuses on new conceptions and arenas of civic action promoted by a Cape Town based AIDS activist group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), and the new forms of citizenship that emerge from their engagement with AIDS treatment policy. TAC is an example of a “new” social movement that has constructed its own arenas of action and spaces of participation in response to state-driven AIDS policies. Unlike the formal, hierarchical structure and conventional class politics and Marxism of the “old” political and labour movements, TAC, like other new social movements, draws on grassroots, bottom-up, network based modes of organisation that operate simultaneously in local, national and global spaces (Touraine 1981; Melucci 1989). While it is problematic to assert a strict divide between “old” and “new” social movements, organisations such as TAC have introduced tactical and organisational innovations that take advantage of the increased global reach and instantaneity of the media, the Internet, email and other circuits of telecommunications (Cohen and Rai 2000; Wasserman 2003). While TAC speaks to audiences well beyond the border of the nation– state, its main objective has been to lobby and pressurise the South African government to provide AIDS treatment.

TAC has been forced to address a wide range of issues at global, national and local levels: it has tackled the global pharmaceutical industry in the media, the courts and the streets; it has fought discrimination against HIV-positive people in schools, hospitals and at the workplace; it has challenged AIDS dissident science in South Africa and abroad; and taken the government to court for refusing to provide prevention of mother-to-child transmission treatment (PMTCT) programmes in public health facilities. In addition to these high profile activities, TAC has also launched AIDS literacy campaigns in black townships throughout South Africa challenging AIDS myths, silence, denial and misinformation (see Robins, forthcoming). This article shows how these diverse TAC activities and interventions have contributed towards creating new political spaces for engagement at local, national and global levels. TAC relies both on transnational advocacy networks and grassroots mobilisation in ways that are similar to modes of activism that are increasingly described as ‘globalisation from below’ or ‘grassroots globalisation’ (Appadurai, 2002a). TAC also provides examples of organisational practices that cut across institutional and non institutional spaces, and that are capable of generating multiple relations to the state. In doing so, it has provided its members with opportunities to engage simultaneously in a variety of participatory spaces that allow for the articulation of new forms of citizenship from below.

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This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.2 (2004) AIDS Activism and Globalisation from Below: Occupying New Spaces of Citizenship in Post‐apartheid South Africa

Cite this publication

Robins, S. and Lieres, B. (2004) AIDS Activism and Globalisation from Below: Occupying New Spaces of Citizenship in Post-apartheid South Africa. IDS Bulletin 35(2): 84-90


Steven Robins
Bettina von Lieres

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South Africa

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