Six months of talks between South African AIDS activists and the Eastern Cape health department over the province's frustratingly slow rollout of anti-AIDS drugs culminated in violence on Tuesday, when 40 members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) were injured during protests.
According to a TAC statement, the South African Police Services in the Eastern Cape town of Queenstown "brutally assaulted and then opened fire on unarmed, peaceful protesters asking for HIV treatment".
Ten people were treated for gunshot wounds, while one protestor was admitted to hospital. At least ten of the injured people were living openly with HIV/AIDS.
"The majority of the protesters were women. At no stage was there violence, threat of violence or any form of provocation; no warning to disperse was issued, as is required by law. After the assault, as people ran away, the police opened fire with firearms and then used teargas," the statement related.
Nokhwexi Hoboyi, a TAC media spokeswoman, told PlusNews that activists in Queenstown were forced to demonstrate this week, as the provincial government had failed to show a lack of urgency in implementing the rollout.
In Queenstown, for example, an estimated 2,000 people needed treatment but only about 190 were receiving it.
With 142 people on the waiting list, fewer than 10 people have been put on treatment this year, TAC said. "About 52 people have died while waiting for the drugs," Hoboyi noted.
TAC called on provincial health minister Dr Bevan Goqwana and national health minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang to "take responsibility ... for mismanagement and unnecessary deaths".
The lobby group is planning to hold a mass demonstration in Queenstown on 26 July.