The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) on Tuesday refused to endorse Thabo Mbeki or Jacob Zuma for leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), but hinted it would be more comfortable with Zuma at the helm.
The TAC, which has accused Mbeki and his government of denying Aids science and blocking the wide roll-out of antiretrovirals, said it hoped the winner would usher in ”serious change” at the top of the nation’s health department.
It also urged the party, which will choose a new leader at its conference in Polokwane from December 16 to 20, to admit that government’s Aids policies since 1997 had led to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths in a nation where about 12% of 47-million people have HIV.
”It is critical for us to have a leadership in the ANC that speaks the truth, who is honest and who addresses the questions of HIV, TB and maternal mortality,” TAC chairperson Zackie Achmat said at a press conference in Johannesburg.
While Achmat said the group would seek to work with whoever led the ANC, he added there was no way the country could confront its Aids crisis without a high-level shake-up at the health department, which is led by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Tshabalala-Msimang, an Mbeki ally dubbed Dr Beetroot for her promotion of beetroot, garlic and other foods as frontline treatments for HIV/Aids, has been branded an Aids denialist by angry scientists and grassroots Aids activists.
‘Glasnost in our country’
But Tshabalala-Msimang could face the axe if Zuma, as expected, wins the leadership. There is speculation that former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who is well-regarded by the Aids community, could replace her.
”For the first time there is a Glasnost in our country, and that makes us excited,” Achmat said.
Madlala-Routledge and Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka delighted activists earlier this year when they spearheaded a more orthodox approach to fighting AIDS while Tshabalala-Msimang was recovering from a liver transplant.
Hopes the government had taken a U-turn on the issue were further stoked when a revamped Aids strategy, with an expanded rollout of anti-retroviral drugs, was unveiled, only to be dashed when Madlala-Routledge was fired and Tshabalala-Msimang returned.
Although Zuma was burned politically by Aids — he testified in his 2006 rape trial that he had unprotected sex with his HIV-positive accuser and then took a shower to avoid infection — he is seen by some as more open to a policy shift than Mbeki.
Zuma, who once led the nation’s Aids council, also has been encouraging South Africans to get tested for HIV/Aids and to take steps to prevent infection and spread of the disease. – Reuters