Calls for Aids TRC
Activists say Aids-related deaths in the Mbeki era should be investigated. Qudsiya Karrim reports
A truth and reconciliation commission on HIV/Aids to investigate thousands of “unnecessary deaths” during the Mbeki-era of Aids denialism should be instituted, the South African Aids conference was told this week.
Former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was speaking on Wednesday at the launch of The Virus, Vitamins and Vegetables, a damning account of government’s failure to address the HIV/Aids crisis effectively since the late 1990s.
The collection of essays by journalists, doctors and activists examines former president Thabo Mbeki’s scepticism on HIV/Aids and former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s promotion of garlic, beetroot and vegetables over antiretroviral drugs.
South Africa’s weak stance on the epidemic resulted in 330 000 unnecessary deaths during Mbeki’s term in office, according to research published by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Co-editors and Health-e journalists Kerry Cullinan and Anso Thom said the book is “a record of what happened, but, more importantly, a reminder that it should never happen again. This is a celebration of the official end of Aids denialism ... but don’t ever stop putting pressure on government. ... we must continue to fight,” said Cullinan at the launch.
Madlala-Routledge acknowledged the hostility and intimidation faced by journalists from “those in high places”, saying the book launch was an occasion to celebrate courageous journalists who kept HIV/Aids in the public sphere.
The former minister, now deputy speaker of the National Assembly, emphasised that “the HIV/Aids pandemic remains a national emergency”. She called on government and politicians to collaborate with civil society and the media in addressing the crisis.
The former minister added that The Virus, Vitamins and Vegetables also helped her to deal with her own frustration, anger and experiences during her term as deputy health minister.
Madlala-Routledge is respected for her outspoken, critical views on government’s HIV/Aids track record. She was fired by Mbeki in August 2007 after declaring the appalling conditions at Frere Hospital, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of babies, a “national emergency”.
The director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, was frank about the political pressure exerted on scientists and researchers during the Mbeki and Manto era.
He supported Madlala-Routledge’s call for a truth and reconciliation commission on HIV/Aids, saying South Africans “will always stand for truth and for justice”.