By Pusch Commey

New African October 2000

Barking up the wrong tree; Mbeki is expected to dispense drugs like sweets and make himself the darling of the drug companies. He will not. So he must be given a bad name and hanged.

In the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in 1994, a gang of racist white farmers led by the AWB leader, Eugene Terre Blanche, entered the former Bantustan then ruled by Lucas Mangope and indiscriminately shot dead over 40 innocent blacks. Their Dutch courage ran out when they came under fire from the Bophuthatswana Defence Force. Three of the farmers were killed--shot by a black policeman when their car was stopped.

The Sunday Times, one of the country's leading newspapers, angrily cried MURDER all over its front page. Little was said about the 40 blacks who had been shot dead for no reason except that they were black. It is that kind of reality that South Africa continues to live with six years into majority black rule.

With its disproportionate voice in the media and its established links with kith and kin abroad, most of the print media (read white) are especially notorious in the manipulation of perception at the expense of the black population and the country in which they live.

David Beresford's article of 20 August for the British weekly, The Observer (see Baffour's beefs p 16-17) is an excellent example. l For those who don't know, Beresford is a columnist for the Mail and Guardian of Johannesburg, a sister paper of The Guardian (London) which owns The Observer.

Beresford's article, headlined Mbeki 'let's AIDS babies die in pain,' is rich in speculation, distortion, damned lies and outright mischief. It accuses the president of refusing to provide anti-AIDS drugs to pregnant women.

The article is anchored on the infantile threat by the AIDS Treatment Action Group (a pressure group) to take legal action against Mbeki for "killing" AIDS babies by an act of omission--refusing to give their mothers AZT and Nevirapine.

An act of omission is a legal principle they hardly understand, which first has to establish a duty of care in a situation where someone is under your care and control (as in the landmark South African case of Minister of Police v Skosana).

In the first place, the government has not prevented anybody who wants to privately seek whatever antiviral treatment or quack therapy from doing so. A government obviously cannot be held responsible for the death of every sick person in a country. Nobody has been arrested by Mbeki's government for using AZT or Nevirapine. The government's crime is simply that "we are not buying until we have made sure it works for us. So we cannot include it in our official register yet."

Picking on this phantom legal threat, Beresford proceeds to take potshots at Mbeki by saying: "It is becoming apparent that the explanation for these seemingly perverse policies lies in South Africa's state of denial over AIDS."

He then disingenuously seeks an explanation for his "denial theory" by resurrecting the case of Charlene Smith who wrote an article on her rape ordeal at the hands of a black man and used it to make unhealthy conclusions about black male sexual violence. Mbeki subsequently denounced her as racist..

Astonishingly, Beresford perpetuates the very idea for which Charlene Smith was denounced by quoting extensively from a discredited article by a white anthropologist married to a black man, Dr Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala. Beresford passes this off as a "most compelling" analysis.

He quotes her in part: "There is a significant body of well researched and well documented social studies that points to high levels of premarital sexual activity, extramarital relations and sexual violence, making African societies more at risk from HIV/AIDS than those in other parts of the world.

"In many communities, women can expect a beating not only if they suggest condom usage but also if they refuse sex, if they curtail a relationship, if they are found or suspected to have another partner, or even if they are believed to be thinking about someone else."

Beresford's conclusions are based on "a significant body of research." "Research has found..." What research, and who is behind it?

How research by some anthropologist sitting in KwaZulu-Natal becomes representative of a whole big continent, beggars belief. Snapshots taken in time of selected targets suddenly becomes representative of all of Africa.

The Mr Beresford domonstrates considerable cowardice by taking cover under the words, "if such analysis holds true," then the situation would appear to call for strong national leadership to deal with the denial. He then insults President Mbeki by declaring him unfit to offer a strong national leadership. He further aggravates it by accusing Mbeki of being in denial.

Nauseatingly, Beresford caps his article by outrageously suggesting that Mbeki's "sensitivity on race points to a previously undiscovered psychological trauma" which makes him "least qualified to heal past wounds." When, and where, Mbeki was diagnosed as suffering from psychological trauma is yet to be known.

What is known, however, is the "psychological trauma" suffered by Beresford himself when the master/servant relationship with his maid ended with her death. On 18 August, (two days before his Observer article), Beresford wrote in the Mail and Guardian about his heroic attempt to get to the bottom of what his maid of eight years suffered and subsequently died of.

He concluded that it might have been AIDS but nobody would say what killed her. It is this difficulty in understanding that different cultures handle situations differently that is baffling. This is what Beresford calls denial. And which makes him unfit to make any commentary on such matters.

Mbeki cannot heal past wounds because people like Beresford continue to rake it. He says the president denies the reality of AIDS because he "nurses the dreams of an Mbeki-led African renaissance." And yet in the same breath, he talks about Mbeki pursuing AIDS cures such as virodene.

How one can deny the existence of a disease and yet seek a cure? It beats me. Interestingly, virodene was invented by white South Africans, and Beresford will do well to ask the manufacturers of AZT, Nevirapine and the other anti-viral drugs about their laundry list of side effects, any of which can make you sick.

Apparently, Mr Beresford wants President Mbeki to dispense drugs like sweets and make himself the darling of drug companies and their governments in the West. He will not. So he must be given a bad name and hanged.

The "good" black president in White South Africa/the West is the one who serves their interest at the expense of his people. Mbeki will not.

And unfortunately, in our midst, are the Judases of South Africa (and Africa) who will betray a presidency for 13 pieces of silver.