AFP 4 October 2000

Johannesburg -- South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) has backed President Thabo Mbeki's controversial stance on AIDS, in which he asserts that the disease may have causes apart from a single virus.

The party issued a statement late Tuesday in a show of solidarity, ahead of upcoming local government elections and after some party members and the ANC's political partners joined criticism of Mbeki's position.

Mbeki has flouted conventional scientific opinion that HIV is the cause of the AIDS and sided with "dissident" scientists who believe it might also be caused by problems such as poverty and malnutrition, particularly affecting developing countries.

Tuesday's statement, from the party's national executive committee (NEC), said the ANC "lends its full support" to the government's backing of further scientific inquiry into AIDS.

"We should refuse to surrender to populism, dogma and sales pitches of some pharmaceutical companies and their agents," it added.

He has also stated that a virus, such as HIV, cannot cause a syndrome, such as the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and reportedly suggested that pharmaceutical companies were pushing this notion so that governments buy their anti-AIDS drugs.

Controversy around Mbeki's stance was the result of a "massive propaganda onslaught against the ANC, its president and its government," the NEC said.

Pressure has mounted on Mbeki to accept that the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) is the cause of AIDS, including from the ANC's alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Communist Party.

Critics have said that Mbeki's stance on AIDS is confusing South Africa, where 4.2 million people out of a population of some 43 million were infected by the virus at the end last year, according to government figures.

Mbeki has stressed that his government's programme on HIV/AIDS was based on the "thesis" that HIV causes AIDS.

However, it was absurd to suggest that HIV was the only cause of AIDS, the head of the ANC's presidential office Smuts Ngonyama said in the Business Day daily Wednesday.

Ngonyama wrote that AIDS as a "syndrome includes a collection of diseases", such as tuberculosis, some pneumonias and cancers, diarrhoea, herpes and others.

"It is therefore absurd ... to suggest that all these diseases can be caused by a single, common virus, HIV," he said.