MBEKI'S AIDS VIEWS GET UN FORUM
By Rob Rose
Business Day (South Africa) 20 June 2001
President Thabo Mbekiís views on HIV/AIDS will be delivered to a global
audience when Harry Belafonte addresses the United Nations special assembly
on HIV/AIDS in New York next week.
Belafonte, the goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Children's Fund
(Unicef), met Mbeki during a 12-day tour to South Africa.
Belafonte said he would take "all the experience and analysis being given by
responsible leaders in South Africa" and present this to the United Nations
secretary-general as well as to delegates at the UN General Assembly Special
Session on HIV/AIDS taking place in New York from June 25 to 27.
While in South Africa, the former singer met with Mbeki, officials from the
Department of Health and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on social
development. Belafonte told a press briefing in Sandton that Mbeki "did not
hesitate to tell me his point of view on a host of issues, starting with
"I sat with him, I talked with him and I asked hard-nosed questions."
Belafonte said that Mbeki put forward his view that AIDS is about "more than
just healthcare", and that social factors need to be considered when
tackling the disease.
Belafonte said that the president had shown that "the mystification of
medicine and science by itself is an insufficient discourse to answer the
other ramifications of AIDS".
"There is nothing to disagree with on [Mbeki's] views on AIDS when he
explains that what the medical and scientific community says does not stand
alone... That the pandemic is affected by hunger, malnutrition and other
"I agree with Thabo Mbeki, as does my wife, and as I'm sure Unicef does,
that unless a mighty Armada (fleet) is assembled to tackle the social issues
that helps the AIDS pandemic sustain itself, we will have missed the boat."
While Thabo Mbeki's contention that AIDS can only be tackled in the context
of other social problems was discussed, the president's public questioning
of the link between HIV and AIDS was not raised, Belafonte said. While
Belafonte said that he "won't defend the President from what I've read" in
the papers, he indicated that Mbeki's views needed to be seen in totality.
"It is a little unfair to consider just one aspect of his views in
isolation," Belafonte said.
The US singer and UN ambassador said he was pleased that Mbeki has opened up
debate on the issue. When asked how he will respond to possible criticism of
South Africa's response to HIV/AIDS should the issue arise in the UN AIDS
assembly, Belafonte said while he would present the views of the countryís
leaders, "I do not have to define Mbekiís views".
Belafonte said would use the UN assembly as a chance to "suggest that those
in the US donít just send medicines" and that greater humanitarian
assistance as well as expertise be provided to countries in Africa in the
grip of the AIDS pandemic. Belafonte said that he saw hope in South AfricaĻs
response to AIDS and said that the country could be looked at to provide an
example to the rest of Africa. Unicef representative to South Africa, Jesper
Morch, says that the statistics of AIDS infections in South Africa are
He cited statistics showing that more than 50% of all 15-year-old children
in the country will have died from AIDS within 15 years.