The Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC) HIV/Aids and gender awareness education programmes have unleashed a rash of abuse in a number of provinces, the direst of which is occurring in Khayelitsha, Western Cape. TAC members in the Eastern Cape and Mpumulanga have reported running a gauntlet of insults and verbal abuse during door-to-door campaigns. But while words, rather than the proverbial sticks and stones, seem to have been the projectiles aimed at TAC members in these provinces so far, members in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, have been at the receiving end of bullets and knives.
In and affidavit lodged at the Cape High Court last week, the TAC provided a detailed list of intimidation aimed at TAC members in Khayelitsha’s Harare section which includes members being shot, knifed and receiving death threats. The affidavit was lodged in request of an interdict to prevent alleged gangster Yanga Janet, 22, from intimidating TAC members.
Up until recently, Janet was one of four people accused of the rape and murder of Nandipha Makeke in an alley outside a Khayelitsha shebeen on the night of December 16, 2005.
But Janet, along with Zukile Fumbata, was acquitted due to lack of evidence in a case which brought back memories of 22-year-old Khayelitsha TAC member Lorna Mlofana’s death from being kicked and beaten on 13 December 2003 after she told her rapist she was HIV positive.
Janet was also arrested for the attempted murder of Thembalethu Mangwana, who was shot in the arm, and Mandla Nkunkuma, who was shot in the back after they and other TAC members were gathered around the scene of Makeke’s murder. But the attempted murder docket was lost for over two years before reappearing on 1 April this year with the medical records missing.
As first applicant listed on the affidavit, TAC national chairperson Nonkosi Khumalo alleges Janet has, together with a “loose association of 12 to 15 gangsters” led a campaign of active intimidation against TAC members and those affiliated with sister organisation Simelela Rape Centre in Khayelitsha, as the gangsters appear to be threatened by the TAC’s activism on the issue of gender violence. Khumalo says the threats and intimidation have got so bad that the national office has advised TAC and Simelela members not to wear their distinctive ‘HIV Positive’ t-shirts.
Besides the attack on Mangwana and Nkunkuma, a fourth respondent , Mthuthuzeli Dutyulwa, said Janet told him “he was going to kill him”, as well as his brother, Mangwana and Nkunkuma, but “he would start with Isaac (Mangwana) because the ‘last time he missed him and this time I will not’.”
Additionally, four days after Dutyulwa was allegedly threatened by Janet on 26 March, his house was broken into and clothes and a speaker system were stolen.
During the break in fellow TAC member Slulamile Hlonendlini was stabbed by an assailant suspected to be associated with Janet’s gang. Hlonendlini had to spend four days in hospital.
As result of the threats against their lives, Mangwana, Nkunkuma and Dutyulwa have moved out of their Harare homes to a place of safety and Harare TAC members are afraid of being alone or walking near Janet’s turf on the corner of Hlonela Street and Mew Way.
High Court acting Judge Richard Brusser has granted a temporary interdict against Janet, who was given until May 12 to respond or oppose the interdict before Brusser makes his final decision on May 22. In the meantime, Janet has denied shooting, intimidating, assaulting or damaging anyone’s property. In an interview Janet said: “I was surprised when I read about this in a newspaper, that I am terrorising the community. I know nothing of what they are saying.”
He said he spent over two years in prison before being acquitted and intended to sue the safety and security and justice departments. “Truly speaking, it is a pure fact that the people are not satisfied that I was acquitted in the rape and murder trial involving their member and now they are doing everything in their power to see me put behind bars. “I don’t have a problem with people wearing their t-shirts. I don’t remember threatening anyone, why would I do that in the first place? I don’t want to go back to prison.”
He said one of the three applicants in the TAC’s affidavit was the brother of his ex-girlfriend and he thinks they have planned to put him behind bars. “I was told that I went to my ex-girlfriend and threatened her with a firearm, something which I don’t have knowledge of. The same people who are making these affidavits are the one’s who were gangsters while I was growing-up.”
But whether Janet was responsible for terrorising Khayelitsha TAC members or not, TAC branches in other provinces also report a worrying trend of abuse levelled against them.
TAC peer educator in Lusikisiki, Monalisa Pule-Ngqisha, said members were commonly sworn at, particularly when engaged in door-to-door campaigns, and in some areas TAC members are not permitted by communities to address them on health issues.
These areas included Lusikisiki, Queenstown and remote areas like Engcobo and Eqoboqobo, said Pule-Ngqisha.
“People still have the stigma that being close to someone infected with HIV is a risk and they think they will be infected by speaking or staying with infected people, thus they still believe that people wearing the organisation’s t-shirt are infected with HIV. “If you mobilize and try to make people understand health issues, you are getting yourself in the risk of being insulted or being abandoned by the community,” she said.
She said hostility predominantly came from males between the ages of 16 and 25, who knew little about their HIV status and health issues. “When we are trying to talk to them they will shout and tell us that we are trying to spread the virus by tricking people about our talks and we should leave them alone.”
Mpumulanga provincial coordinator Bheki Khoza said they struggled with parents who prevented their children from attending TAC programmes. “The people here are not familiar with the organisation and young people are not used to talking about these issues.” Khoza said HIV positive people were discriminated against by their communities, “but we are trying everything to normalize the situation”.
But there is concern that what has been happening in Khayelitsha can happen elsewhere, said TAC national spokesperson Mandla Majola. “The people who are threatening us and intimidating us see us as a threat to the bad things they are doing in the communities,” said Majola, and the danger of resistance turning violent was present “as long as there is people who go against what the TAC offers”.
* Reporting by Sandiso Phaliso