"The law can be catalytic and even cathartic. Yet on its own, it cares nothing for democracy or rights. On the other hand, people’s movements, like people themselves, are hot-blooded, noisy, and messy. They are diverse. They don’t often take easily to rules. They can be intemperate. Movements rise and fall. They breathe. They can die."
Mark Heywood is the founder and editor of Maverick Citizen, an online media platform for civil society in South Africa. Mark Heywood was the Executive Director of SECTION27, est. May 2010, until April 2019. SECTION27 incorporates the AIDS Law Project (ALP), one of South Africa's most successful post-apartheid human rights organizations. SECTION27 is a public interest law center that seeks to influence, develop and use the law to protect, promote and advance human rights. He joined the ALP in 1994, becoming its head in 1997 and executive director in 2006. In 1998, he was one of the founders of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). In 2007, he was elected as deputy chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council. He is also the current chairperson of the UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV/AIDS.
Mark Heywood was the primary architect of one of the most celebrated successes of movement lawyering globally: the 2001 litigation to compel the South African government to provide antiretroviral medication to pregnant mothers with HIV. In this illuminating essay he describes how fighting this case enabled the Treatment Action Campiagn (TAC) to build a movement. The case was used the “to educate members on the constitution and the law,” and gave the TAC “purpose and internal coherence”; court hearings and legal deadlines “gave us a potent reason for demonstrations and the organising and alliance-building that went into them.” The flip side was “the impact TAC’s mass mobilisation had on the legal process by influencing public opinion outside the court.” Even Nelson Mandela was photographed wearing the TAC’s iconic “HIV-positive” t-shirt, and every Constitutional Court judge would have been well aware of the case’s “importance, its urgency, and the lives at stake.” Still, Mark urges deep reflection on the efficacy of piecemeal strategic litigation. If legal battles continue to be fought in isolation, “they will tie government and civil society in eternal combat and yield little.” The implication of this is that “rights cannot be fully realized and sustained without challenging legal systems that create and perpetuate inequality, and turning them into those that advance social justice.”