Mbeki Says He Knows No
One Who Has Died Of AIDS

From Jan Lamprecht
Southern Africa in Crisis

(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 the disease.
This article was originally published on page 3 of The Daily News on September 26, 2003




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