Carol Paton

Sundat Times (SA) 15 Oct. '00

President Thabo Mbeki has told the ANC's highest decision-making body that he is withdrawing from the public debate on the science of HIV and AIDS.

Party insiders said Mbeki told the ANC's national executive committee that his continued participation in the debate was causing confusion.

They said there was concern in the government that the controversy sparked by his views on AIDS was creating a negative mood in South Africa and causing disillusionment with the President within the ANC.

It was also widening divisions between the ANC and its allies, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party.

Mbeki told the committee he would leave his ministers, led by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Health Minister, to liaise with the Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel, which he established this year to investigate the causes of AIDS.

Mbeki told the ANC meeting that the committee of ministers, not him, would receive and process the report.

But although he will withdraw from the public debate, Mbeki also gave the meeting a detailed explanation of his controversial views on AIDS.

Mbeki's withdrawal from the public debate follows his admission in Parliament three weeks ago that his participation had confused matters.

His decision to withdraw coincides with other efforts by the government to undo the damage done by the controversy:

Tshabalala-Msimang announced this week that HIV-positive pregnant women would be given the anti-HIV drug Nevirapine at seven hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal. a significant expansion of a government study on the feasibility of a programme to prevent mother-to-child infections;

Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who chairs the National AIDS Council, this week emphasised conventional approaches to HIV and AIDS such as using condoms and treating sexually transmitted diseases; and

The government launched a R2-million publicity campaign promoting conventional methods of fighting AIDS.