SOUTH AFRICA SLAMS AIDS DECLARATION BEFORE CONFERENCE
By Emelia Sithole
Reuters 3 July 2000
Johannesburg -- The South African government on Monday
slammed as "intolerant'' a declaration by more than 5,000 leading
scientists and doctors published ahead of an international AIDS
conference in Durban.
The so-called Durban Declaration, published in the run-up to the world's
largest AIDS meeting scheduled to begin on Sunday, said overwhelming
evidence showed that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. It condemned
theories by so-called dissident, or revisionist, scientists who contest
President Thabo Mbeki has been widely criticised for saying he is not
convinced that HIV is the only cause of AIDS, which has infected 33
million people worldwide.
"How can you draft a declaration and adopt it before the conference?''
said presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana.
"We have never seen this kind of intolerance and we don't want people
bringing intolerance to South Africa,'' Mankahlana told Reuters.
He said the declaration, published at the weekend in the scientific
medical journal Nature, appeared to target Mbeki, who has been
criticised for his government's refusal to give pregnant women the
anti-retroviral drug AZT and for expressing his doubts about the
effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs.
Mbeki has also angered some scientists by including dissident
researchers like American Peter Duesberg on a presidential panel
investigating the disease in South Africa.
Government figures show that 10 percent of South Africans, or some 4.3
million people, have been infected with HIV.
UNAids says the correct figure is double the official one and AIDS
workers have accused the South African government of dithering while the
spread of the disease rapidly becomes a crisis.
President's Office Warns Against Mbeki Bashing
Mankahlana hit back at critics, warning that the debate appeared to be
descending into Mbeki bashing.
"President Mbeki may be wrong in raising the questions but you cannot
take away his right to ask. People are entitled to make declarations but
people must be careful they don't confine their work on HIV/AIDS to
Mbeki bashing,'' Mankahlana said.
"You can bash Mbeki but that would not bring the desired results,'' he
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang also hit out at local
scientists who signed the declaration, saying they had pushed for a
tougher line but had backed down after she questioned their motives.
She said the declaration smacked of elitism.
Scientists from the South Africa's National Institute of Virology were
among the 5,000 who signed the Durban Declaration.
"I'm not questioning the contents, I'm questioning the process. If you
look at the declaration and the people who are supposed to sign the
declaration it is again the exclusive health scientists only,'' said
"As we have always said, AIDS is not an issue that must be dealt with
only by scientists. It is an issue about all of us, all sectors of
society, government, business, so you can't have a certain exclusive
group of people saying this is what we believe about HIV and AIDS.''