Govt rejects TAC’s meeting demand

The Department of Health has rejected a demand for the inclusion of the Aids Law Project (ALP) in South Africa’s delegation to next month’s special United Nations session on HIV/Aids.

The demand was made by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as a precondition for its acceptance of its own inclusion on the list.

”The department is unable to address this particular condition,” it said on Wednesday. ”There are many organisations that are doing sterling work in curbing the spread of HIV infection and reducing the impact of Aids in the country.

”Therefore, no organisation can claim to be solely entitled to representation in the country delegation above other organisations.”

The department said the final delegation includes 14 people invited by the government from various sectors of civil society, among them TAC general secretary Sipho Mthathi.

”Most of the delegates have responded positively to the invitation, except for the TAC’s Ms Mthathi who, through a press statement, has put several conditions regarding her participation in the country delegation,” it said.

The department is going ahead with the logistical arrangements for the delegation’s registration and participation, which will be fully financed by the government.

”This requires that Ms Mthathi decide whether she accepts or declines the invitation to be part of the country delegation.”

There will be no limitations on the activities of members of the country delegation to the session, the department said.

It initially excluded both the TAC and the University of the Witwatersrand-based ALP from the delegation.

Director General of Health Thami Mseleku reportedly said the department objected to the presence of TAC and the ALP because they previously used such platforms to vilify the government, and particularly President Thabo Mbeki.

The government’s barring of the TAC and the ALP evoked outrage from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and deep disappointment among Aids-fighting NGOs.

”South Africa needs the TAC, and the world has the right to hear their important contribution to the international debate on how to defeat this deadly epidemic,” Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said at the time.

The TAC’s Mthathi told the Mail & Guardian Online that the government refrained from consulting the TAC when it compiled a report on the HIV/Aids situation in the country.

”The report for the UN was supposed to be a combined one by both civil representatives and the government. The report now is dishonest and it does not reflect on failures in the treatment of the epidemic. Government should be much clearer in its approach to fight HIV/Aids,” Mthathi said.

The UN General Assembly special session, which starts on May 31, is scheduled to review the progress the world has made in implementing the Declaration of Commitment on HIV and Aids adopted by the General Assembly in 2001.

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