MBEKI SHUNS AIDS DISSIDENTS
Scientists ordered to stop using President's name
By Mondli Makhanya
Sunday Times (South Africa) 21 April 2002
President Thabo Mbeki has distanced the government from the AIDS dissidents
from whom he has taken controversial advice over the past few years.
According to senior government officials, the Presidency has instructed the
Health Ministry to write to the dissidents telling them to stop using
Mbeki's name when signing their correspondence.
Several dissident members of Mbeki's AIDS Advisory Panel, among them
Americans David Rasnick and Peter Duesburg, have taken to using this
designation when writing documents and signing letters to newspapers. They
have also been using Mbeki's name at international platforms when
questioning the link between HIV and AIDS.
Now Mbeki has decided to cut informal contact with them and communicate with
them only when the advisory panel meets.
Government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe confirmed that there had been
"discussion" about getting the dissidents to stop misusing Mbeki's name. "We
are telling them there are other members of the panel who hold the orthodox
view so they cannot sign themselves as if they represent the view of the
entire panel," he said.
And MP Peter Mokaba, who has emerged as the champion within the ANC of the
dissident viewpoint, has also been instructed to desist from speaking out on
Mbeki, who officials say has come round to accepting the negative impact
that the pandemic is having on South African society and the country's image
abroad, will refrain from expressing his personal views in public and will
instead reiterate the official position when questioned on AIDS.
In a major departure from its controversial stance on AIDS this week, the
government made the dramatic announcement that it was to put in place a plan
for a universal roll-out of antiretroviral drugs for HIV-positive pregnant
women from January next year. It also agreed to avail the drugs to rape
survivors and people infected through needlestick injuries.
It is understood that the shift in approach was prompted by growing fears in
Cabinet and ANC circles that the AIDS furore was fomenting negativity in the
country and creating a gulf between the government and other sectors of
society. Trade unions, anti-AIDS organisations and community organisations
were beginning to see the government as an "enemy".
There was concern that there was a build-up of "mass mobilisation and
hysteria" against the government, which was being seen as uncaring.
There was also pressure from the Social Development Ministry, whose funds
were increasingly being diverted to AIDS relief work.
In a bid to assert its leadership in the fight against AIDS, the government
will next month launch a massive awareness campaign with AIDS organisations;
focus strongly on negotiating cheaper drugs with pharmaceutical companies;
project an image of "sensitivity" towards those living with the disease and
encourage their use of supplements; and launch a campaign to combat
discrimination against those with HIV.
More money and expertise will be ploughed into the SA National AIDS Council.
Mbeki will also soon appoint a deputy minister of health to focus solely on
the issue of AIDS.
The head of the Department of Health's AIDS Directorate, Nono Simelela, said
the end of the battle over antiretrovirals would enable officials to deal
with practical issues in fighting the disease.
Secretary of the SA Communist Party Blade Nzimande - whose relationship with
the ANC had soured over the AIDS issue - said he was glad the Cabinet was
now "ignoring the political idiosyncrasies of the likes of Mokaba" and
Despite this week's dramatic about-turn, government has not applied for
donor funds to expand its AIDS drugs pilot study programme. It has asked for
R500-million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria - which
meets in New York next week to begin disbursing R10-billion to developing
countries - but earmarked none of this for the pilot programme. Instead, it
will fund TB drug research and psychological services for those living with
Additional reporting by Ranjeni Munusamy and Bobby Jordan