By Ben Maclennan
Forty-four Treatment Action Campaign members who occupied provincial government offices in Cape Town on Friday to call for the arrest of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were themselves arrested.
The protesters, who included TAC chairperson Zackie Achmat, were charged with trespass and warned to appear in court on Tuesday.
The TAC has been calling for both Tshabalala-Msimang and Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour to be charged with culpable homicide after the death of an HIV-positive inmate at Durban's Westville prison.
The unidentified inmate was one of 15 prisoners who, with the TAC, took the departments of health and correctional services to court last month and won a ruling ordering government to give Westville prisoners ARVs with immediate effect.
The departments have angered the TAC by appealing against the ruling.
Friday's arrest was carried out after the TAC members decided after consulting among themselves that they wanted to be taken into custody, rather than disperse.
Scores of protesters had entered the building at 4 Dorp Street shortly after 11am in a bid to occupy the offices of health MEC Pierre Uys on the 20th floor.
However, they were thwarted by security guards, who shut down the lifts.
Addressing the protesters in the foyer of the building, Achmat said they were demanding that the government observe the rule of law.
"The reason we're breaking the law today is that government is not listening to the courts. They're playing fun and games with people's lives," he said.
He handed a memorandum outlining the TAC demands to an official from the office of Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool.
Earlier on Friday about 100 activists marched on the central Cape Town office of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which they briefly occupied earlier this week, to get promised feedback from the commission's provincial head Ashraf Mahomed.
Mahomed read out a statement from the commission's national chairperson Jody Kollapen, saying the SAHRC would liaise with the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons on the circumstances surrounding the death of the inmate, and would do "whatever is necessary" to ensure the matter was fully investigated.
"What I have done so far is to set up a meeting at nine o'clock on Monday morning.... with the judge, the inspecting judge himself, in his office, together with ourselves and together with members of the TAC to discuss how we are going to take this investigation forward," Mahomed said.
In 2003 TAC called for Tshabalala-Msimang to be charged with murder. That call was part of the organisation's campaign to force the government to commit to a national antiretroviral treatment plan. - Sapa