Scroll To Top

South African
president hits back at critics of AIDS policy

South African
president hits back at critics of AIDS policy

South African president Thabo Mbeki--who has long been accused of playing down the AIDS epidemic--hit back Friday at criticism of his government's policy and his firing of the popular deputy health minister.

In his weekly column, Mbeki said that he would not be pressured by the ''ill-intentioned and ill-founded hue and cry'' about the dismissal of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. The deputy minister had won widespread praise for revitalizing the country's anti-AIDS campaign, while her boss, the health minister, has been seen as a destructive force because she has questioned the efficacy of AIDS drugs and instead promoted beets and garlic as a remedy.

Mbeki fired her last week, saying she was incapable of working as part of a team. Domestic and international critics, who have long called for the dismissal of health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, said he had axed the wrong person.

An estimated 5.4 million South Africans are infected with the AIDS virus, the second highest total in the world after India. About 900 people die each day and an estimated 1,400 people are newly infected, according to the Medical Research Council, which predicts that fewer than half the country's 15-year-olds will live to see their 60th birthday.

Critics have accused Mbeki of denying the link between HIV and AIDS and turning a blind eye to the devastation the epidemic is wreaking in South Africa. Stephen Lewis, the recently retired U.N. envoy on AIDS in Africa, on Wednesday said of Mbeki: ''I'll never understand his disastrous response to the AIDS virus. I don't think I've ever met anyone, inside or outside of South Africa, who fully understands.

''After all,'' Lewis wrote in an opinion piece for South African newspapers, ''this is a man of immense intelligence, who fought against apartheid with every intellectual and organizational weapon at his command. But his place in the annals of South Africa is forever sullied by the inexplicable unwillingness to confront HIV/AIDS.''

In his weekly column distributed by his office Friday, Mbeki said the government had launched an ambitious AIDS prevention and treatment policy--and that this was not purely the work of Madlala-Routledge. And he insisted that all government members must toe the party line. He said the depiction by AIDS activists and international commentators of Madlala-Routledge as a heroine for daring to speak out undermined the African National Congress's principles of collective responsibility.

''None of the members of the ANC deployed in government will be treated by our movement as heroes and heroines on the basis of 'lone ranger' behavior, so-called because of their defiance of agreed positions and procedures of our movement and government,'' he said.

Mbeki intimated that the criticism also illustrated that many people were jealous that South Africa was a success and didn't meet Western stereotypes of a failed continent.

''Is it the case that to win the approval of the loudest voices in the world of the contemporary global communication system we must behave in a manner that is consistent with their stereotypes?'' Mbeki questioned. ''Who will determine who our heroes and heroines will be?'' (Clare Nullis, AP)

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Matthew Van Atta