/ 29 August 2007

ANC: We knew of Manto’s theft charges

The African National Congress (ANC) said on Wednesday it knew about Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s dismissal on theft charges from a Botswana hospital in 1976, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) radio news reported.

The Sunday Times reported two weeks ago that Tshabalala-Msimang was convicted of theft when she was a superintendent at the Athlone Hospital in Botswana in the 1970s.

Calls by opposition parties and civil society groups for the minister to resign as unfit for public office have since swept through the country.

”The president [Thabo Mbeki] actually knew about it because the ANC knew about it,” ANC head of the Presidency Smuts Ngonyama told SABC.

”As far as we are concerned the issue of the case is irrelevant at the present moment. We talk of a case, I think, which took place 32 years ago.”

Ngonyama said the constitutional guidelines were clear in this case.

”Any person who was given a sentence which was above 12 months, that person was not liable to be appointed as an MP — which is not the case [with Tshabalala-Msimang].”

Ngonyama also confirmed to the SABC that a meeting between ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and sacked deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge had not yet taken place.

This follows the ANC working committee’s request that Madlala-Routledge be questioned on events following her dismissal.

Mbeki has called for the committee to investigate whether disciplinary action should be taken against Madlala-Routledge after she criticised his leadership style.

Ngonyama said that while the meeting had not yet taken place, Madlala-Routledge had confirmed being in touch with the secretary general.

‘Misplaced loyalty’

Meanwhile, Tshabalala-Msimang was accused by Aids activists on Wednesday of fuelling the country’s HIV crisis by obstructing efforts to combat the disease.

A raft of NGOs, including the leading Aids lobby, said the recent sacking of the deputy health minister had raised fears that a widely praised Aids programme was being undermined only months after its launch and that ”denialism” was back in vogue.

”We hoped that the government would put the lives of our people before misplaced loyalty,” read a letter addressed to Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and signed by groups including the Treatment Action Campaign lobby, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and South African Council of Churches.

”Instead, our people continue to die and become infected because of lack of leadership and deliberate obstruction from Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang and her director general, Thami Mseleku.”

South Africa’s new five-year Aids plan — aiming to halve new infections and treat 80% of sufferers — was lauded at home and abroad when it was finally unveiled earlier this year.

It was drawn up under the leadership of Mlambo-Ngcuka, chairperson of the South African National Aids Council, and Madlala-Routledge while Tshabalala-Msimang was recuperating from an illness and subsequent liver transplant.

The plaudits that greeted the plan were in stark contrast to the ridicule heaped on Tshabalala-Msimang over her championing of garlic and vegetables to help combat HIV, which affects millions of South Africans.

However, since her return to work, the goodwill seems to have evaporated and Madlala-Routledge’s sacking on August 8 has fuelled anger towards Tshabalala-Msimang. — Sapa-AFP