Born of Indian parents in South Africa in 1962, Zackie Achmat grew up in the "coloured" community and was always a rebel for equality. By the time he was ten he was a total bookworm and gained special permission to use the whites-only library for reading, but he was still prohibited from using its restrooms. When he was fourteen, during the Sowetto Uprisings, he set his school on fire to convince his classmates to join the boycott. As an active member of the illegal ANC for years, he was jailed many times before apartheid ended and the ANC's Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994. That same year Achmat co-founded the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, and in 1996 South Africa had become the first nation whose Bill of Rights bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Building on lessons from the gay rights and anti-apartheid movements, in 1998 Achmat created the Treatment Action Campaign [TAC] to fight aids through prevention, to increase awareness, and to get medicines to the poor. Immediately he gained worldwide attention by announcing he was HIV+ and would refuse to take his drugs until they were available to all South Africans. Among the many ways TAC has changed lives is by helping to erode the shame and stigma of HIV, proclaiming one's positive status with bold t-shirts rather than hiding or lying. Winning numerous legal and public relations victories against the government and international pharmaceutical corporations, Achmat finally resumed his meds when he was very ill in August 2004, anticipating correctly that in November the Ministry of Health would announce its plan to distribute ARVs widely. In 2003 The New Yorker ran an excellent profile of him written by Samantha Power and the following year the American Friends Service Committee nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize (which went to Kenya's Wangari Maathai). In 2008, he married Dalli Weyers, 25, in a wedding where the traditional caketop figures of a bride and groom were replaced by a king and a cowboy. They divorced in 2011. Zackie appeared in Dylan Mohan Gray's 2013 aids pharma documentary Fire in the Blood which has since become the longest running documentary feature in India.