SAPA 5 July 2000

Johannesburg - The government respected all views by scientists on the cause of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Everyone has a right to put their signature where they want," she told reporters.

Tshabalala-Msimang was reacting to a statement by presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana that the Durban Declaration on AIDS should be thrown into a dustbin.

The declaration was signed by 5 000 scientists ahead of next week's international AIDS conference in the KwaZulu-Natal city. It condemns what the scientists regard as revisionist theories on the cause of AIDS, which they believe has President Thabo Mbeki's support after he reportedly questioned whether HIV caused AIDS.

It was released ahead next week's international conference on AIDS.

Mankahlana told Sapa on Monday night that the declaration "belongs in the dustbin".

Mankahlana said: "If the drafters of the declaration expect to give it to the president, or the government, it will find its comfortable place among the dustbins of the office."

Tshabalala-Msimang was on Tuesday accordingly questioned by reporters about the government's stance towards the declaration.

"I did not say that. Don't put words in my mouth," she said at a media briefing on the final rounds of discussions by the Presidential AIDS Advisory Council.

She earlier said the government respected the panellists' right to support a particular point of view, but stressed that the document did not have official conference status.

She also said the document was not directly linked to the AIDS conference to be held in Durban, she said.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party and the Federal Alliance condemned Mankahlana's statement.

"The government has consistently failed to give AIDS its due recognition and Mankahlana's comments further marginalise its status in the President's Office.

"This pompous temper tantrum might have a place in a nursery school, but has no place in the Office of the President. If Parks Mankahlana cannot engage in adult debate then he should be placed in a post of less crucial importance," DP spokesman Philip Grobler said.

Federal Alliance spokesman Jan Bosman agreed.

"Parks Mankahlana must now do the correct thing and rather refrain from embarrassing himself and the President on an issue which is highly emotional and is a subject for those knowledgeable and with experience.

"With these foolish and utterly senseless statements he is not contributing towards the AIDS/HIV debate but is displaying ignorance," Bosman said.