13/11/2017 10:34 SAST | Updated 13/11/2017 13:57 SAST

Zackie Achmat: SA Is On The Verge Of 'Chaos'

"Unless we do something, we will create the moment of chaos."

Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

"We must accept we are in an extremely dangerous situation where, unless we do something, we will create the moment of chaos."

This is the warning to South Africa from 55-year-old anti-apartheid activist and acclaimed Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) co-founder Zackie Achmat.

"Everyone I know, all of us just hopes Cyril [Ramaphosa] will win [the ANC presidency] and things will be a little better and we can go back to normal – but we cannot go back to normal.

"We cannot continue betraying our children, our youth."

Seated on the sidewalk of his favourite coffee shop, Lola's, in Cape Town's iconic Long Street on Friday morning, Achmat comes across as excited while he talks about the need for civic engagement leading up to the 2019 elections.

He clenches his spoon in his hand as he speaks, pausing occasionally to take a breath.

It's been one day since he returned from Johannesburg, where he met with Eskom whistleblowers and SARS insiders, and a week since he was arrested at the NPA's offices in Cape Town, where he demanded that President Jacob Zuma be arrested.

"It is critical to break through our fears because the state is being securitised at an enormous level and an alarming rate," Achmat explains.

He says Zuma is leading "an organised criminal syndicate", and calls Zuma's ex-wife and ANC presidential candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma "the state capture candidate".

However, Achmat also believes that Ramaphosa has been "complicit in all the state capture and has been for a very long time".

"The impacts of capturing the state through a criminal syndicate means this... It means our electricity prices have shot up [by] 400% because of corruption at Eskom; it means people die on the trains because Jacob Zuma was paid directly from the money that was meant to make them secure.

"I think 2019 is going to be the most important [national] election South Africa has ever had because it is the first chance we are going to get to kick out people who continue the system of oppression and a system of state capture."

Achmat says the solution to state capture is building a "strong movement outside government".

"[There should be] a totally new political realignment in 2019 where a left front emerges, whether it is with the communist party, with the EFF... [or] a new, a different part of the ANC."

He says the ANC, who he last voted for in 2004, would "bury itself" if it doesn't split at its December elective conference.

"They might even win, they might even get like 48%, or even 50% [of the vote], but they would have lost every single major province that is important to the economy.

"They would be crushed in terms of [their] capacity of people who can run anything and after that, the next set of municipal elections would wipe them out in most places and their parliamentarians would jump ship."

Achmat, who has battled three "oppressive regimes" over a 40-year period – first apartheid, then AIDS denialism under then-president Thabo Mbeki, and now state capture under Zuma – believes that "in many ways life [today] is measurably better".

He smiles while looking over at the maroon-coloured Victorian building behind him, across the street.

Pointing, Achmat explains: "I lived across the road there in an underground fashion with my former boyfriend – if I'd been caught [during apartheid] I could've been charged [under the] group areas act.

"Across the road, there at Long Street Café there used to be a bookshop – brilliant bookshop – and [there was] a whorehouse above, which was fantastic."

"[But] this wasn't a fun place to sit in – Long Street was dead. Pieter Dirk Uys wrote a play called Lang Straat and it went: 'Lang Straat, Lang Straat, na middernag, bang straat (Long Street, Long Street, after midnight, fear street)'.

"[Today] people are not oppressed by pass-laws, kids can travel to the city and walk in the city and never imagine apartheid in the city."

While speaking about the potential of the Constitution to "revolutionise property rights", Achmat is interrupted by a delivery truck that rushes past.

Staring at the black, tarred road Achmat says: "On the other hand, I think the only major pessimistic thing in my life or for us in politics needs to be [an] understanding [of] what we're doing to the environment and the planet and that's a tragic thing."

And the purpose of human life?

Achmat, who has been preparing for death since the 1990s when he was diagnosed with AIDS and refused treatment until 2003, believes "there's no purpose".

"The only thing that there is, is that we have to struggle to be ethical every day and we have to struggle to be human every day and decent every day," he says softly, nearing the end of his interview with News24.

"The only purpose that exists is the purpose that we give to our lives."