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S. African AIDS Activists Organize National Day of Community Action - 2002-08-07

South African AIDS activists have organized a national day of community action aimed at educating people about AIDS at the grassroot level. Thursday, hundreds of people will hand out condoms and pamphlets at taxi stands, train stations, shopping centers, schools, and clinics around the country.

The so-called National Day of Community Action has three major aims. Organizers want to press the government for a national AIDS treatment plan. They also want to promote openness and understanding, to fight the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. And they want to hand out condoms in a bid to slow the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Pholokgolo Ramothwala is a spokesman for the Treatment Action Campaign, which is one of the most vocal AIDS-activist groups in South Africa and one of the event's main backers.

"Well, the point is to try to get the community in the local areas to mobilize, to start fighting against HIV themselves," he said. "Because up to so far, we feel that it has been sort of a political issue. And the community, they are the people who are most affected, and that is why we want them to be involved in the fight against HIV."

In addition to the Treatment Action Campaign, scores of other groups are co-sponsoring the National Day of Community Action, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, the country's largest labor federation.

COSATU shop stewards will conduct lunchtime workshops in factories and other workplaces around the country.

There will be a few large rallies at local sports stadiums, with music, speakers and poetry readings. But the focus is on smaller events. Activists will hand out educational pamphlets and condoms at taxi ranks and train stations at the height of rush hour, to reach people on their way to and from work.

Mr. Ramothwala says they are trying to get the word out to as many people as possible.

"Look, it's quite a combination of things. We'll be going to clinics, hospitals, Supplying people with information, running training workshops," he explained. "We'll be going to taxi ranks, we'll be going to shopping malls where there is a lot of people and trying to have tables to say, if you want to know more about HIV, this is what you can get. And also just providing people with the information, those who want to read it at home. We'll be going to factories, we'll be going to workplaces also, saying this is the information about HIV. If you want to know more, contact us or we can do something for you."

The organizers admit they do not have enough educational pamphlets to give one to each of the thousands of commuters who are likely to pass by their information desks. So in many areas, the education will be one-on-one, nurses will be on hand to answer any questions that people may have about HIV and AIDS.