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July 22, 2010

The future of AIDS activism: looking for sustained energy and new tactics 10 years after Durban "But activists are worried that the next decade may not be as energetic as the one prior, which was spurred on by Durban successes. “I’m questioning how we can sustain the energy that we made at Durban another ten years,” said Mark Heywood, Executive Director of South Africa’s Section 27 (formerly the AIDS Law Project). “We have more tools than we had before, we have more knowledge that we had before. But tools and knowledge are not self-implemented. There has to be an energy… What we need most is our ability to sustain … effective civil society.”

"According to Paula Akugizibwe of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), the movement may in fact be entering its most trying period yet. “The situation today is a lot more complex,” she said. “We’re still facing financially driven political hostility, but [now] it’s being presented under pseudo-scientific arguments.”

“I think there’s a danger in fighting for political decisions to be made […] and then thinking that we’ve wont the battle,” Akugizibwe continued. “But that’s actually when [it] really begins. And that’s often the most difficult battle because [it] is not so clearly defined.”

"According to Heywood, political gains can both harm and help the AIDS movement. Heywood questions the effectiveness of what he calls “the co-option of activists into the national response … Sometimes it is very difficult to tread the line between constructive partnership … and … forced silences that become a condition of ongoing partnerships.” Heywood noted that he speaks from personal experience, acting as chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, which comprises representatives from government, civil society and the business sector.

"Akugizibwe contends that supporting activists working locally is key to the continued success of the movement. Noting that many ARASA partners face intimidation by both government offices and UN agencies when speaking out about health systems’ failings, Akugizibwe said: “These are the realities in which activism is taking place in many countries in the African region … we have seen a strong pushback from governments.”