SAPA 10 Sept. 2001

President Thabo Mbeki's latest comments on HIV/AIDS are "conclusive proof" that he does not deserve to lead South Africa, according to the United Democratic Movement.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said in a statement that Mbeki's letter to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang regarding the disease "should serve as the final verdict on his incompetence and incapability to look after the best interests of the country".

Health official Sibani Mngadi confirmed the authenticity of the letter, dated August 6, which urges a re-examination of South Africa's social spending priorities.

The ministry would issue a statement later in the day, he said.

The letter - published in the Business Day newspaper - details 1995 World Health Organisation (WHO) figures in an apparent attempt to de-emphasise the HIV/AIDS crisis in the country.

He instructs the minister to examine the 1995 data that he extracted from the Internet which showed the "HIV disease" was the cause of only 2,2 percent of all deaths in South Africa.

The figures show the leading cause of death to be external causes (19,8 percent) and diseases of the circulatory system (17,5 percent).

Mbeki suggests that the minister share the information with others in the cabinet's social cluster.

Holomisa said tabling outdated statistics, which did not even recognise the link between Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS, was irresponsible.

"The fact is that HIV/AIDS is a major cause of death in SA."

"The arrogant tone of the letter, and the carelessness with which he recommended reprioritising the budget on social spending, was cause for grave concern. The internet has greater influence on government spending than the voices of millions of South Africans.

"Why is parliament not consulted on the proposed amendment of the single most important aspect of the national budget?"

The time was long overdue for South Africans to consider whether Mbeki had the moral authority to govern, Holomisa said.

Meanwhile the Medical Research Council (MRC) confirmed on Monday that it would soon release the report, an intensive three-year study, entitled The Impact HIV/ AIDS Has On Mortality In South Africa.

Spokesperson Merle May said: "We are still re-looking at the data to make sure that when the report is presented and launched, everything is basically kosher and we are happy."

May said the report would only be released within the next week or two.

"We are awaiting the return of MRC president Dr Malegapuru Makgoba from the United States since he will also be looking at the report including the statistics, before it is out," she said.

May would not comment on media reports stating that President Mbeki's efforts could be undone by the MRC's report, which is expected to say that AIDS has become the leading cause of death.

Presidential aide Tasneem Carrim said that a statement from Mbeki's office would be issued later on Monday.