- (IOL) -- Shock, anger and a good deal of sarcasm - along
with a call for President Thabo Mbeki to apologise - has greeted his insistence
in the United States that he does not know anyone who has died of Aids.
- Other furious responses to the comments of the man who
leads South Africa, where nearly five million people are infected with
HIV and more than 600 people die of Aids every day, is that his statements
are the ultimate confirmation that he is a "dissident".
- Mbeki's own former spokesperson, Parks Mankahlana, died
after being diagnosed HIV-positive, according to the ANC's controversial
"Castro Hlongwane" document.
- The latest storm around the president and his approach
to HIV and Aids centres on an interview at the Plaza Hotel in New York,
where Mbeki is attending the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
In the interview he was adamant he knew of no person who had succumbed
to the pandemic.
- "Personally, I don't know anybody who has died of
Aids," Mbeki is quoted as saying. Asked whether he knew anyone with
HIV, he added quietly: "I really, honestly, don't know."
- Political parties and Aids activists in South Africa
jumped to express their anger, shock and disappointment at what they said
was an ideal opportunity for the president to help break through the stigma
surrounding HIV and Aids in the country.
- About one in 10 South Africans is infected with HIV,
with 250 babies a day being born with the virus.
- Democratic Party spokesperson on HIV and Aids Mike Waters,
has called for the president to apologise and to move quickly to to address
his error by committing himself publicly to the planned national roll-out
of anti-retroviral drugs to prolong the lives of South Africans with Aids.
- Waters called the president's comments in the US "highly
insensitive", and said they "add insult to injury" for the
five million South Africans living with HIV and Aids, the majority of whom
could not afford anti-retrovirals.
- "It is clear that President Mbeki's inner circle
are rich enough to afford their own anti-retrovirals, and that the president
has little sympathy or understanding of the epidemic sweeping our country.
- "When both the president and the minister of health
(Manto Tshabalala-Msimang) are fervent supporters of dissident views on
HIV/Aids, it can mean only bad news for our country's fight against this
deadly disease," Waters said.
- Leader of the Independent Democrats Patricia de Lille,
who has a long history of fighting for the rights of people with HIV and
Aids, said Mbeki's comments were ultimate proof that he was a "dissident".
- "This confirms that he believes HIV does not cause
Aids and he should be ashamed of himself," she said.
- South Africa was already experiencing solid economic
evidence of the consequences of the pandemic.
- "Yet he still denies the effect of the pandemic
on the country. It is a shame to know that South Africa is in the hands
of an Aids dissident," De Lille said.
- Aids activist Zackie Achmat, head of the Treatment Action
Campaign that has gone so far as to take the government to the Constitutional
Court to win access to drugs for South Africans with HIV and Aids, invited
Mbeki to visit his organisation, and to "make friends with the thousands
of people living with HIV - and to witness the deaths of people who do
not have access to medicines".
- Achmat started taking anti-retrovirals last month following
a year-long stand that he would not take the drugs while the majority of
South Africans who needed them could not afford to buy the drugs.
- Achmat also invited Mbeki to "make friends"
with members of parliament living with HIV, and their families, including
Ruth Bengu whose daughter lives openly with HIV.
- He also encouraged the president to urge his immediate
acquaintances and his "large circle of comrades" to go for HIV
tests, and to be open about the results to help lift the stigma surrounding
- This article was originally published on page 3 of The
Daily News on September 26, 2003