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By Alex de Waal

Why, 20 years into the challenge, are democratic governments appearing so poorly in tackling AIDS in Africa? De Waal argues that present methods are pushed through pursuits and frameworks that fail to interact with African societies' resilience and creativity. Already, African groups have confounded a number of the worst predictions of catastrophe. If appropriately supported, they are going to locate methods of maintaining improvement and democracy in the middle of HIV/AIDS.

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The ‘positive constituency’ thinks that AIDS is a priority and the government is doing well. Where there are no strong views, there is no AIDS constituency. Botswana is a unique example of a strong ‘positive constituency’. It has the highest level of public confidence in government policy on AIDS, strongly correlated with demand for public action on AIDS. This implies that the government is successfully setting the nation’s AIDS agenda. But some Batswana also feel that the government has done all it can on AIDS and should not lose focus on other public issues.

Dealing with the personal, family and communal impacts is another important topic. High-quality news, analysis and opinion appear to be the best way of breaking down denial, weakening the grip of moral and cosmic metaphor, and promoting public commitment to tackling AIDS. How an informed citizenry then articulates and enforces its demands is a different question. De Waal 03 23/5/06 9:31 am Page 34 3 AIDS Activists: Reformers and Revolutionaries Confrontation and Its Limits On 12 July 2005, demonstrators from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) occupied the hospital in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa to deliver a memorandum to the provincial health administrators.

Edwin De Waal 03 23/5/06 9:31 am Page 47 AIDS Activists: Reformers and Revolutionaries 47 Cameron also drew a parallel between AIDS denialists in government and the genocide denialism of some revisionist historians. 24 The parallel between the mass murder of Jews or Rwandese and mass death from AIDS is at best inexact, but it tells us something about the political tactics of activists. Kramer had a clear target for his anger: his government. Kaleeba, Katana and Achmat are at once more precise and more general.

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