HIV MIGHT VERY WELL CAUSE AIDS - MBEKI
By Khathu Mamaila and Robert Brand
The Star (South Africa) 14 Sept. 2000
The government on Thursday moved to quell the growing controversy around
President Thabo Mbeki's stance on HIV and AIDS.
Advertisements seeking to clarify the views of the President and Health
Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on whether HIV causes AIDS have been
placed in Friday's newspapers.
This follows the publication on Thursday of a confidential document written
by leaders of the ANC's national health committee calling on Mbeki and
Tshabalala-Msimang to acknowledge that HIV causes AIDS. Tshabalala-Msimang
last week clashed with Radio 702 talkshow host John Robbie when Robbie
insisted that she explain whether she believes HIV causes AIDS.
The adverts also follow the admission earlier this week by Essop Pahad, the
Minister in the President's Office, who is the political head of the
Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), that he had failed
to communicate Mbeki's stance on the link between HIV and AIDS effectively.
The ANC's parliamentary whips have also written to Mbeki asking him to
brief the party's parliamentary caucus in an effort to clear up
misunderstandings about the government's policy on HIV and AIDS.
The adverts, which are an attempt to "put the issue beyond doubt in the
public mind", were placed by the GCIS. They say "neither the president nor
his cabinet colleagues have ever denied a link between HIV and AIDS".
"This is made clear if one refers to the full transcript of the president's
interview last week with Time magazine," the advert asserts.
"The published edited version in Time, on which many critics now depend,
conflated his remarks in a way which could give rise to a misunderstanding
over his use of the word 'no' after being asked if he was prepared to
acknowledge that there was a link between HIV and AIDS.
"In fact, the president went on to say 'you cannot attribute immune
deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus'. The context of the full
transcript makes it expressly clear he was prepared to accept that HIV
might 'very well' be a causal factor.
"The president went on to say 'AIDS is a syndrome. It's a whole variety of
diseases which affect a person because something negative has happened to
the immune system. If the scientists come back and say this virus is part
of the variety of things from which people acquire immune deficiency, I
have no problem with that. But to say this is the sole cause, therefore the
only response to it is anti-retroviral drugs--I am saying we will never be
able to solve the AIDS problem."
The ANC also moved on Thursday to reverse perceptions of discord within the
ruling party over the issue. The party said the confidential document
written by leaders of its national health committee did not reflect the
ANC's official view. However, it said policy on HIV and AIDS was not cast
in stone and would continually be debated within the organisation.
The document, part of which was leaked to The Star this week, reflects
concern among ANC members about Mbeki's ambiguous statements on the
disease, which affects more than four million South Africans.
Neither Mbeki's office nor Tshabalala-Msimang would comment on the
developments when approached on Thursday, saying they were internal ANC
ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama did not deny the authenticity of the health
committee document, but said it did not reflect "the views or policies of
the ANC, its leadership structures, committees or organs". It was an
"internal discussion document that reflects the views of its author".
The document's author is the deputy chairperson of the ANC's national
health committee, Confidence Moloko.
The committee is a policy unit intended to advise the health minister and
the party's national executive committee on policy. It does not have
decision-making powers but has great influence within ANC decision-making
Ngonyama said the leaking of the document was part of "a concerted campaign
that seeks to create perceptions of divisions within the ANC". He said the
document would be subjected to debate and "further consolidation and even
reformulation if need be".