By Jaspreet Kindra

Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 22 March 2002

A document - entitled Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics: HIV/AIDS and the Struggle for the Humanisation of the African - that is being sent out by the African National Congress to its structures implies that Mankahlana had AIDS; it claims he was killed by antiretrovirals. The Mail & Guardian, which reported the cause of Mankahlana's death two years ago, came under severe criticism at the time from the ruling party.

The document also claims that 12-year-old AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson died as a result of antiretrovirals that he "was forced to consume".

The decision to dispatch the document came during an ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting held last weekend and called to deliberate the government's AIDS policy. It was sparked by former president Nelson Mandela's call on the government to provide free access to antiretrovirals in public hospitals.

But AIDS dissidents such as Peter Mokaba gained an upper hand at the meeting. "He was provided far more air time than we were," complained a member. Said another: "It appeared as if he had the endorsement of the party leadership."

Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who tried to bring in members of the party's health secretariat - which comprises qualified medical personnel - was not allowed to do so. At the same time non-NEC members, such as the acting Eastern Cape MEC for Health Max Mamase, a well-known anti-AIDS drugs proponent, were allowed in.

Following the meeting the ANC released a statement - termed "very confused" by medical personnel - on its HIV/AIDS policy, snubbing Mandela's call. ANC members attributed the confusion to an attempt to accommodate President Thabo Mbeki's dissident views on HIV/AIDS. So while the statement announced that the government will consider rolling out the distribution of nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women in December this year, it also raised questions on the efficacy of this and other antiretrovirals.

The document the ANC is sending to its structures portrays AIDS as a conspiracy theory pushed by an "omnipotent apparatus" posing as "friends of Africa" with the aim of dehumanising Africans. The document implies it is referring to forces - media and pharmaceutical companies - which do not share Mbeki's stance.

The document quotes from journals and poets usually referred to by Mbeki in his speeches. Castro Hlongwane, named in the document's title, is the 17-year-old thrown out of a KwaZulu-Natal holiday resort by its owner, who allegedly claimed the teenager had AIDS and would rape other campers. Hlongwane's experience is used to illustrate the "racist agenda" of those who oppose the AIDS dissident stance.

The document pronounces in a sarcastic tone: "Yes, we are sex-crazy! Yes, we are diseased! Yes, we spread the deadly HI virus through our uncontrolled heterosexual sex! In this regard, yes, we are different from the [United States] and Western Europe! Yes, we, the men, abuse women and the girl-child with gay abandon! Yes, among us rape is endemic because of our culture! Yes, we do believe that sleeping with young virgins will cure us of AIDS! Yes, as a result of all this, we are threatened with destruction by the HIV/AIDS pandemic! Yes, what we need, and cannot afford because we are poor, are condoms and anti-retroviral drugs! Help!"

The document portrays Mankahlana as a martyr in the cause of his president and claims he died "vanquished by the anti-retroviral drugs he was wrongly persuaded to consume".

Because Johnson was too young to have an independent voice like Mankahlana, the document reasons, the "omnipotent apparatus" ignoring his parentage and family renamed him "Johnson".

"He was reborn as a creature of the imagination and the resources of white South Africa. The world decided to accord him the status of a hero, the new Hector Peterson murdered not by the apartheid regime, but by our country's democratic government."

The document cites studies to illustrate that the antiretrovirals are poison and identifies poverty and underdevelopment as the main cause of the "AIDS deaths".

Nobody, the document claims, has seen the HI virus; it disputes claims of its having been isolated. The document implies that the "controversial discovery" of the virus by two scientists, American Robert Gallo and Frenchman Luc Montagnier, and endorsed by then presidents Ronald Reagan and Jacques Chirac in 1987 was part of a cover-up of a non-finding.

The document claims the generic system - the Elisa test - that is used to test for the virus is also used to test for foot and mouth disease in cattle and has been proven to be faulty. Thus the inclusion of foot and mouth in the document's title.