By Lynne Altenroxel

Star (Johannesburg) 10 April 2000

President Thabo Mbeki has given an interview to an AIDS dissident journalist who flew to South Africa in the wake of Mbeki's questioning whether HIV causes AIDS.

Joan Shenton, who has produced award-winning documentaries promoting the dissident viewpoint, said she was overjoyed by the president's open-minded approach to the epidemic and found him to be deeply concerned about the plight of people living with HIV.

"I feel like I've been drowning for the past three years because no one would listen," she said, indicating orthodox scientists' rejection of the dissident view.

Presidential spokesperson Tasneem Carrim confirmed that Mbeki had given an interview to a "London-based independent production company".

While the company, Meditel, expected the interview to be broadcast on M-Net's Carte Blanche on Sunday, Carrim said this was still subject to the government signing a release from allowing the screening. "They haven't got permission yet," she said.

The issue has clearly become a sensitive subject since Mbeki's controversial statements regarding HIV and AIDS. Carrim wanted to know where The Star had heard about the interview.

The dissident, who include US molecular biologist Professor Peter Duesberg, believe that HIV does not cause AIDS. They say, rather, that death in HIV-positive patients results from the toxicity of ant-AIDS drugs.

They point to 62 different conditions - including pregnancy, flu,malaria and TB - which can produce false HIV-positive test results, and refer to activists such as Christine Maggiore, who has tested both HIV positive and HIV negative in a series of tests.

Shenton has published a book on the subject, entitled Positively False.

She said scientists opposing current AIDS wisdom had "impeccable credentials" and that 500 scientists belonged to the dissident grouping, called the Group for Scientific Reappraisal of HIV.

Shenton added that she found it "criminal" that so many people had been told they were going to die.

The thing that worries me about this is that the orthodoxy behind this is like a religion. It's very hard to challenge," she said.

"It isn't the first time that science has been wrong."

While Shenton praised Mbeki, she slammed Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for her opposition to the inclusion of alternative viewpoints on an advisory AIDS council.