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Still Saul, not Paul

THOSE sceptical about the government’s alleged Damascene conversion on HIV/Aids, and who fear dissident backsliding, will be worried by the nevirapine appeal in the Constitutional Court.

The case was billed by the government as centring on the key constitutional issue of the separation of powers. It would not be an attempt to fight the full provision of nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women.

In fact, the case presented by the state’s lawyer, Marumo Moerane, centred on the same old obscurantist drivel about the drug’s toxicity and ineffectiveness, with scant focus on the Constitution. Asked whether HIV-positive women should not have half a loaf, rather than nothing at all, Moerane disagreed. If the state won the case, nevirapine would again be restricted to the pilot sites where it is being (needlessly) tested.

It is possible Moerane feels bound by the state’s argument in the earlier high court case, or that he is not up to speed with the new policy. A more sinister theory is that the government skirted the constitutional issues because it is far more afraid of losing on that front than on the nevirapine argument. With further court challenges looming on socio-economic rights – particularly in the education sphere – the last thing it needs is a ruling that strengthens the hand of the judges.

But there are other signs that the alleged sea-change in government thinking on HIV/Aids is not the full Monty. Why did the Medicines Control Council announce two days before the court case that it was re-examining nevirapine? During the case, health Director General Ayanda Ntsaluba also used the decision by the United States Food and Drug Administration to halt registration of the drug because of faulty paperwork. The suspicion remains that there is a move afoot to de-register nevirapine in South Africa.

At the same time, Mpumalanga’s crackpot MEC for Health, Sibongile Manana, continues to try to evict from state hospitals a rape counselling agency that provides anti-retrovirals. And President Thabo Mbeki has retained his Aids Advisory Panel, set on a wild goose chase for the cause of Aids two years ago and packed with dissident scientists. It can be assumed Mbeki’s views have not changed, whatever the official policy. What will he say when journalists besiege him during his next trip to the US?

The suspicions may be unfounded, but because of its appalling record on HIV/Aids government now has to place itself above reproach. The 2000 Aids conference in Durban did South Africa enormous damage in world eyes. The next world Aids conference, in Barcelona, is just two months away.

The gravy train stops here

The speed with which the Transnet board, Spoornet’s parent, moved to institute an independent probe into the riverfront railway house bought on the cheap by Spoornet’s chief executive, Zandile Jakavula, deserves praise. The Transnet board, led by Bongani Khumalo, chose to appoint a credible external auditing firm, Gobodo Incorporated, to investigate the allegations against Jakavula and other implicated officials. They instituted the probe on the same day this newspaper exposed the scandal, so demonstrating the will to take quickly a decision that could not have been easy. Jakavula has, after all, performed well since he joined the rail utility in 2000.

We hope that the Transnet board’s courage will not, however, end here. It should suspend for the duration of the inquiry Jakavula and other officials apparently implicated in the scandal. Jakavula’s mere presence at Spoornet may have an intimidatory effect on any staff with information of interest to the investigators.

Moreover, there is sufficient evidence, on the face of it, to suggest that the manner in which Jakavula bought the well-situated house in Port Alfred fell well outside the parameters of good corporate governance.

This week we produce additional evidence suggesting that Jakavula not only bought the house from Spoornet on the cheap and then had his own subordinates renovate it, initially at taxpayers’ expense; we also reveal new evidence that Spoornet sought to undervalue the property – so reducing the amount ultimately paid by Jakavula.

This is a very serious allegation against the head of one of the country’s biggest parastatals. We believe that, when the Transnet board meets on May 10 to decide on what action to take – based on the investigator’s interim report – they should send a clear message to the public. First, because corruption is among the most serious problems we face as a nation. Second, because we on this newspaper and the voters in this country will not let the matter go. For us, the fight against corruption – by whomever, and for whomever’s benefit – is the patriotic duty of those who work in the media.

For these reasons we find other media’s silence on the Jakavula case frankly disappointing. In many other democracies the exposé of wrongdoing by someone of the stature of the Spoornet CEO would cause a storm. Alas, not here.

The media needs to probe its torpor. Or should that read its fear? Apparently, that torpor is not shared by even the much-maligned Transnet board.

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