JUST STICK TO WHAT MBEKI SAID
Release from Mr Parks Mankahlana
Head of Communications - President Mbeki's
24 March 2000
There continue to be questions about the philosophical underpinnings of
religion and the scriptures. Many philosophers and historians have gone as far
as questioning the existence of God and the legacy of Jesus Christ. These
questions notwithstanding, humankind's devotion and commitment to religious
guidance and solace has not diminished. In fact, over the years, man's
association with the word of God has flourished. Then why should questions that
are asked by the South African government about HIV/AIDS reverse the "gains that
have been made in the past thirteen years"?
Human beings live in the realm of what they know. Through the ages,
humanity's relationships with its environment has been discovery, research,
investigation, discovery and invention. Knowledge and information as well as
their management and dissemination are therefore important ingredients in the
definition of human existence.
From time immemorial humans have struggled to grasp phenomena which for want
of scientific progress at the time were either incomprehensible or confusing to
them. English words like "magic", "mystery" and many others that seek to define
phenomena and things that human beings did not understand epitomise the struggle
to understand our surroundings. Out of anxiety -should we say desperation- to
understand and grapple with the unknown, humans invent such belief, as
witchcraft, sorcery and even religion, to explain what was alien to them. All
this is due to the failure or inhibitions of scientific progress and
philosophical thought at the various stages of human development.
Invariably, the powerful and the rich expropriate knowledge, issue patents
to themselves and make laws and regulations to protect and defend their
interests. With the advent of capitalism and its modernisation, knowledge and
information have become the main commodities in the process of wealth
Since his address to the National Council of Provinces in August in 1999,
President Thabo Mbeki has taken the debate on HIV/AIDS to the level it deserves.
He is the only head of state that has put the HIV/AIDS issue on the national
agenda on a daily basis, not only in South Africa, but the world over. Like most
HIV/AIDS activists have argued, he has broken the tradition that seeks to make
the disease just a health problem. HIV/AIDS is a socio-economic problem. It is a
political problem that has reached the proportion of an international crisis. It
threatens to destroy nations and continents.
There has hardly been a response from any personality of note from the third
world or any of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS to the debate about AZT.
We have not seen the kind of reaction we would have encountered had any other
drug prescribed for TB, cholera or other diseases been at issue. AZT means
little or nothing to most of the citizens of the world where HIV/AIDS is
prevalent because they can't afford it any way.
But why has Mbeki generated such a violent reaction from the same people who
should cherish a head of government championing the cause of HIV/AIDS awareness.
Why is it that the only President in the world whose every published photograph
has the HIV awareness ribbon emblazoned on his breast has become the subject of
scorn and ridicule? Why is it that a President that authorised an additional R73
Million from a limited budget for AIDS research is accused of embracing voodoo
science? And why is he accused of saying things he has said?.
Commerce and industry unfortunately define human relations and conduct. In
the modern world, what we say or do not say, may be the ultimate determinant in
share price performance or non-performance.
The response to President Mbeki's address in the NCOP in 1999 was not
motivated by the desire to see an end to the scourge of AIDS/HIV. It was driven
by the fear of the impact the remarks would have on the profitability of the
The "evil empire" was a construct of the military industrial complex. Super
profits being the major consideration, the world was made to indulge in the most
extravagant arms race that we have ever seen. Yes socialism existed, and
inequality within and between nations was there. Indeed poverty and inequality
continue to devastate humankind. But neither socialist ideas nor poverty were
annihilated by the accumulated profits that sit comfortably in the accounts of
the harvests of the loot of the "cold war".
HIV/AIDS is not going to succumb to the machinations of the profiteering
pharmaceuticals and their propagandists. Like the marauders of the military
industrial complex, the profit takers who are benefiting from the scourge of
HIV/AIDS will disappear to the affluent beaches of the world to enjoy wealth
accumulated from humankind ravaged by a dreaded disease. And we shall continue
to die from AIDS.
Why is it that no one has asked the medical insurance companies to cover
medical services for people with HIV/AIDS? Why is it that we do not hear voices
demanding that doctors be allowed to prescribe AZT and the other therapies that
are applicable to HIV/AIDS patients? Why is there no clamour for insurance
companies to provide life cover for people who live with HIV/AIDS? Why must the
South African government give AZT to pregnant women when medical insurance
companies will not cover it even for affording members? And this despite the
enormous resources these companies command compared to the meagre resources of
government. The answer is simple - it is not profitable. Sure, the shareholders
of Glaxo -Welcome will rejoice to hear that the South African government has
decided to supply AZT to pregnant women who are HIV positive. The source shall
not be concern for their health but about profits and shareholder value.
What is the reality? AIDS exists!
What is reality? There is no cure for AIDS!
What is reality? We humans know very little about HIV/AIDS.
This is the reality of President Mbeki's world, namely the challenge to find
answers about an illness that is ravaging more especially the poorest of the
The President has authorised an international panel to be instituted to
broaden the search for solutions.
The international panel must strive to give us answers to all the unknowns.
They must attempt to unravel the "mysteries" of HIV/AIDS, including and more
especially what the profit-takers cannot tell us.
President Mbeki is committed to the campaign to eradicate HIV/AIDS from the
face of the earth. He would not be dedicating so much time to the issue if he
were not. He needs support - not the abuse of all of us. He deserves supporters,
not detractors in his genuine quest to ensure HIV/AIDS is addressed correctly.