By Pule Molebeledi

Business Day (South Africa) 26 April 2002

Johannesburg -- President Thabo Mbeki's relationship with AIDS dissidents looks set to be an enduring one, in spite of suggestions from within government that they should stop using Mbeki's name in their correspondence.

Weekend reports said government planned to ask members of Mbeki's AIDS Advisory Panel who question the link between HIV and AIDS to not sign themselves that way in correspondence.

Although none of the dissident scientists has yet received such a request from government, some panel members said yesterday they would continue to refer to their membership of the panel, even if the panel ceased to exist.

Well-known AIDS dissident Peter Duesberg said yesterday he had received no correspondence from government, including the health ministry, asking him to refrain from using Mbeki's name.

Asked if he would stop identifying himself as a member of the panel if asked to do so, Duesberg said he would not. He also indicated he would continue referring to his membership of the panel even if it was disbanded.

"I think this would be very simple. If the president decides to terminate the advisory panel, current members would become emeritus panel members, and could then correctly describe themselves as emeritus/a of Mbeki's former AIDS advisory panel."

Responding to the same question, another dissident scientist, Prof Charles Geshekter of California State University, confirmed his involvement with the panel and his active participation in meetings between June 2000 and March last year. "Until I hear otherwise, I assume I am still a member of the AIDS advisory panel and am permitted to identify myself as such," he said.

Mbeki's spokesman, Bheki Khumalo, said no decision had been taken to disband the panel or to instruct its members to refrain from using Mbeki's name.

"Rather than focus on who uses what title, people must focus on the government's comprehensive AIDS-prevention programme," Khumalo said.