By Wyndham Hartley

Business Day (South Africa) 22 April 2002

Johannesburg -- State's about-turn on drugs raises questions over his relationship with David Rasnick and Peter Duesburg, who question the link between HIV and AIDS

There have been discussions among senior members of government aimed at getting the socalled HIV/AIDS dissidents to stop misusing President Thabo Mbeki's name, but these discussions did not involve the president.

Last week's reversal of government's position on the AIDS drug nevirapine for rape survivors and the announcement that preparations were under way for a roll-out to HIV-positive pregnant women raised speculation about Mbeki's relationship with AIDS dissidents David Rasnick and Peter Duesburg. Both have written letters to the SA press and signed themselves as members of Mbeki's AIDS panel. They have also used his name when questioning the link between HIV and AIDS on international platforms.

Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said that the matter had been discussed at some levels of government "but these discussions did not involve the president". He said Mbeki was not aware of the discussions.

The changes from last week have also put the position of ANC MP Peter Mokaba in the spotlight. The former youth league leader has been following the dissident line on platforms both at home and abroad. He has openly declared that HIV does not cause AIDS and has declared nevirapine to be a poison.

ANC officials confirmed yesterday that a strong message had been sent to Mokaba that he should desist with his dissident campaign. The concern was the damage being done to SA's image abroad and the deepening gulf between civil society and government.

The image spreading around the world was one of an uncaring government and there was the possibility of increased opposition to government on this one issue.

Tony Leon, leader of the official opposition, welcomed the decision on AIDS drugs yesterday. He said, however, that there needed to be immediate moves to "remove the major contradictions that mark our AIDS policy". He questioned the position of Mokaba and how it contradicted with the actions of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Another contradiction was the cabinet decision on making nevirapine available but still persisting with its appeal against the Pretoria High Court ruling that government should provide the drug to pregnant HIV-positive women.

"It is not enough to cut informal contact with the AIDS dissidents. He (Mbeki) must remove them from government's advisory panel. Decisive leadership and not mixed messages should characterise our policies." Leon also called for government to withdraw from its Constitutional Court appeal.

New National Party spokesman Kobus Gous said "firm, principled and correct decisions, guided by accepted science and above all effective management, is called for".

"SA has the capacity to turn around this disaster. Recent developments might, at long last, indicate that we are now on the right track," he said.