Allies praise Manto, detractors mute criticism

Political allies of former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang offered praise in the wake of her death on Wednesday while her many detractors muted their criticism and offered condolences to her family.

“As minister of health she contributed effectively in the enhancement of government programmes with regards to child and maternal health, which were her particular interests, as well as in responding to diabetes and other chronic diseases,” the Presidency said in a statement.

“Despite the controversies in the media during her tenure as health minister, South Africa scored impressive improvements in putting systems in place for the fight against HIV and Aids.”

While she was health minister, Tshabalala-Msimang had been criticised by Aids activists for her stance on the distribution of antiretrovirals in the public health system, particularly to block the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child.

Tshabalala-Msimang was accused of downplaying the importance of ARV’s while extolling nutrition, often in the form of beetroot, garlic and olive oil, as a treatment for HIV.

Though many were loudly critical of her position, most of her opponents avoided mentioning their disagreements while offering their condolences.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) were among her most ardent foes and participated in a legal action against her to force the government to provide antiretrovirals as part of the public health system.

Despite this antagonistic past, the TAC said it wished no ill will.

“We don’t wish ill on any human being even though we had a very difficult time with her as minister of health,” said TAC general secretary Vuyiseka Dubula.

“We are sending our condolences to her family and children.”

Similarly the Democratic Alliance (DA), which in the past had rarely spared Tshabalala-Msimang of criticism, offered their condolences while declining to comment on her professional legacy.

“Like many politicians she was controversial,” said DA leader Helen Zille said.

“However, that doesn’t detract from the sadness of her death,” she said.

Some opposition politicians such as Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille even offered conditional praise.

De Lille said it was unfortunate that Tshabalala-Msimang would always be remembered for her stance on HIV/Aids.

“... But that should not take away the good things she did in her capacity.”

The Young Communist League (YCL), which had previously called for Tshabalala-Msimang to be charged with genocide because of the lives of poor South African lost due to a lack of access to ARVs, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) offered her praise in the wake of her death without condoning her position on HIV/Aids.

“In as much as we have differed and challenged her ... we can never forget her unqualified contribution to the liberation of this country,” said the YCL in a statement.

“She will not only be remembered for her views on HIV/Aids, but also her role in fighting for democracy.”

“She made some mistakes by driving those [HIV/Aids] policies but she was a human being,” said Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini.

“Her loss is a great loss. South Africa is losing a great leader of the ANC.”

Going against this trend was Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder.

“Of course one expresses sympathy to the people who were close to her ... It is always sad when somebody dies,” said Mulder.

“However, she probably was one of the most controversial ministers in [former President Thabo] Mbeki’s Cabinet,” he said.

“To be honest, I often disagreed with her as minister of health and confronted her especially in Parliament about her stance on vegetables as alternative care to ARVs [anti-retrovirals] in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Mulder.

Many political allies such as Sthe outh African Communist Party and South African National Civic Organisation as well as some ministers in government offered her praise for her legacy as a leader, gender activist and struggle veteran.

However, oblique reference to her time as health minister was made by Energy Minister Dipuo Peters.

Peters said it might be too early for anyone to “grasp in its fullness the contribution that she made to the battle for truth and evidence-based policy making in the country.”

“But surely that time will come,” said Peters.

More directly, Congress of the People Youth Movement (CopeYM) defended her health legacy and said her stance on Aids was “intentionally misinterpreted”.

“Although many might have intentionally misinterpreted her stance of good nutrition to HIV/Aids-infected people, she demonstrated commitment to that stance regardless of the criticism it earn her,” the CopeYM said in a statement.

“This was the feature in her which proved her leadership quality which must be celebrated as she is now no more.”—Sapa



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