By Carol Paton and Carmel Rickard

Sunday Times (SA) 1 Oct. 2000

President Thabo Mbeki told the ANC's caucus meeting in Parliament on Thursday he believed the emphasis placed on the HIV/AIDS epidemic was the result of a conspiracy by US drug firms.

He was speaking as the Constitutional Court ruled that HIV causes AIDS. The finding is in stark contrast to the position of the government, according to which there is doubt that one leads directly to the other.

The ruling on HIV was in a judgment stating that South African Airways had acted unlawfully by refusing a job to an applicant who had tested positive for HIV.

But ANC MPs told the Sunday Times that Mbeki had said the world had embraced the conventional wisdom on AIDS because pharmaceutical companies were "keen on the thesis".

He had said the US wanted Africa to buy its drugs to increase its indebtedness. Another MP said Mbeki "was not as explicit as all that".

"Obviously there is an argument that it suits pharmaceutical companies to promote the theory that HIV causes AIDS, because then you need drugs, not development," he said.

Mbeki is also said to have restated an old dissident theory that HIV, the virus, could not be isolated.

He said he had been asked why his ministers had been so slow to defend him.

Mbeki told the caucus that the Treatment Action Campaign, a lobby group for anti-retroviral drugs for pregnant women, was funded by drug companies and had infiltrated the trade unions.

According to Judge Sandile Ngcobo, who wrote the Constitutional Court decision, "the devastating effects of HIV infection and the widespread lack of knowledge about it have produced a deep anxiety and considerable hysteria."