By Howard Barrell

Mail & Guardian (SA) 6 October 2000

Cape Town -- President Thabo Mbeki believes the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is part of a conspiracy to promote the view that HIV causes AIDS.

Mbeki also thinks that the CIA is working covertly alongside the big US pharmaceutical manufacturers to undermine him because, by questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, he is thought to pose a risk to the profits of drug companies making anti-retroviral treatments.

Mbeki fingered the CIA in his address to African National Congress MPs at a caucus meeting in Parliament last Thursday.

Mbeki also told the ANC caucus that the fact that South Africa under him was emerging as a leader of attempts by the developing world to get a better deal in the international economic system was a threat to the US and other major Western powers.

In what was described as a "rambling" address, Mbeki said that if one agreed that HIV caused AIDS, it followed that the condition had to be treated by drugs and those drugs were produced by the big Western drug companies. The drug companies therefore needed HIV to cause AIDS, so they promoted the thesis that HIV caused AIDS, he said.

Mbeki said his advisers were trying to find out who was spreading the idea that he was "deranged". These reports were clearly part of a campaign against him and his government.

He appealed to MPs to join him in fighting off this campaign.

The struggle he and the government were waging for a better economic deal for developing countries and against the propaganda being put out by the drug companies and, covertly, the CIA were all linked, he said. MPs should not be afraid to take on these powerful international forces, he added.

Mbeki's remarks last Thursday disrupted desperate attempts by government spin doctors--both inside South African and abroad--to lay to rest the HIV/AIDS controversy in which the president has embroiled himself and to repair the battering Mbeki's image has taken.


President Thabo Mbeki told the parliamentary caucus of the African National Congress that he and his government were the target of hostile forces.

The CIA and big multinational drug companies were behind the campaign against South African President Thabo Mbeki. This was because he questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and South Africa was challenging the world economic order. A number of ANC MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, contributed to this account of Mbeki's address to the caucus. Information in brackets is provided as context:

Addressing about 200 ANC members of the National Assembly and some Cabinet ministers (MPs from the National Council of Provinces could not attend), President Thabo Mbeki started out by talking about attempts to transform the country from its apartheid past; he focused on the civil service, saying there had been positive changes. He then:

  • Praised Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel's contribution to the recent International Monetary Fund meeting in Prague (Manuel chaired the Prague proceedings); accused United States Treasury Secretary Larry Summers of not paying sufficient heed to Manuel's speech advocating that developing countries get greater voting powers in the international financial institutions (a view contradicted by some who attended the proceedings); and he went on to say that the world economic order operated in accordance to the US's every whim and that was the way the US wanted it.
  • Said South Africa's challenging of the world financial and trading systems constituted a threat to what had existed for many years and so was a threat to the US and other major Western powers.
  • Said his capacity was being strained by the demands of trying to put forward a development plan for Africa; he was having to do a lot of foreign travel, trying to put this plan together (with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria); although the major Western powers were making supportive noises about a development programme, he expected them to be less forthcoming when they realised the extent of the resources that would have to be transferred to the developing world; and those who wanted to safeguard the established order in the world economy would try to undermine South Africa because of its leadership of these efforts.
  • Said propaganda was being made against him because of his stance on HIV/AIDS; this was a foretaste of attempts to undermine him and South Africa that were being mounted by those determined to defend the established world economic order.
  • Spoke approvingly of a conference of about 60 dissident scientists held in Uganda in September (the conference said there was no scientific proof that HIV causes AIDS and that HIV was merely a passenger virus caused by other factors); quoted from a document from that conference challenging the view that HIV causes AIDS; said (again) that the HI virus had never been isolated; and said reports suggesting that Uganda had scored significant successes in the fight against AIDS were untrue (Uganda's anti-AIDS campaign, which involved a massive publicity drive spearheaded by the country's president, has been hailed internationally as a success for reducing HIV infection rates between 1992 and 1996).
  • Told ANC MPs it was their duty to inform themselves so that they could counter the huge propaganda offensive that was being mounted to say that HIV caused AIDS.
  • Repeated his view that if one agrees that HIV causes AIDS, then it follows that the condition must be treated with drugs, and those drugs are produced by the big Western drug companies; these drug companies therefore need HIV to cause AIDS, so they promote the thesis that HIV causes AIDS; he said one of the big drug companies (which he did not name) had confessed to him that it had wasted vast amounts of money trying to produce an anti-AIDS vaccine but had given up after it had failed to isolate the HI virus; but this company was hiding this fact in order to prevent its share price falling through the floor; drug companies were only interested in developing medicines to combat a disease if they could make a profit out of that disease.
  • Said the CIA had become involved in covertly promoting the view that HIV causes AIDS; as part of the same effort, the US government was ignoring what the dissidents' conference in Uganda had demonstrated and was giving loans to African governments so that the latter could buy drugs from US drug companies.
  • Repeated (challenged) statistics which, he said, showed that only 10% of Africans died of AIDS; said it made no sense to focus all one's energies on this 10%, ignoring the other 90%; said an example of this absurd focus, promoted by the big drug companies, was the call to concentrate on AIDS orphans; how could the government distinguish between the needs of AIDS and non-AIDS orphans?
  • Said his advisers were finding out who was spreading the idea that he was "deranged"; it was clearly part of a campaign against him and the government.
  • Accused the Treatment Action Campaign (an AIDS NGO) of being a leading agent in the campaign against him; the campaign was funded by US drug companies.
  • Said he had gained support from The Citizen in a column by its former editor, Martin Williams; but he said it was less clear that members of his Cabinet supported him on the HIV/AIDS issue; he wanted to know where they stood (at this point there was muttering in the caucus from some MPs who pointed accusingly at, among others, Membathisi Mdladlana, the Minister of Labour, who was one of a couple of Cabinet members to contradict the president's views in late September and to say forthrightly that HIV causes AIDS).
  • Said MPs should join him in meeting these challenges and fighting off attempts to undermine him and the government; MPs should not be afraid to take on the powerful international forces trying to undermine him and, therefore, the government's agenda; the struggles he and the government were waging in the international economic institutions and the World Trade Organisation, and against the propaganda put out by the drug companies and, covertly, the CIA were all linked.

At the end of Mbeki's address, caucus chair Thabang Makwetla did not offer MPs a chance to ask questions or debate the issues raised by Mbeki. The same was the case when Mbeki addressed the caucus after the invasion of Lesotho and when the ANC objected to the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.