Let's move on, Tutu says of Aids debate

Pointing fingers at the administration of former president Thabo Mbeki is not helpful in dealing with South Africa’s HIV/Aids problems, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on Tuesday.

“I just think it’s enough to say, we have had a disaster and ... how do we ensure that we don’t repeat what we know happened,” he said.

“It was a bad policy, most people admit that ... Let’s move on.”

Tutu was speaking at his Cape Town office during the signing of a R3,5-million French Development Agency funding agreement for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.

His comments follow renewed controversy in recent weeks over the HIV/Aids policy pursued by Mbeki and his administration, which flirted with Aids denialists, backed quack remedies and was markedly reluctant to roll out antiretroviral drugs.

Tutu said that labelling that policy “genocide”, as some critics had done, was not helpful.

“Bad things happen,” he said.
“The point of the matter is that people have suffered, people have died who needn’t have died.

“Now we know that that is the situation, I think we just have to direct our energies to correcting it and doing the right things by the people who are suffering now.”

The development agency funding follows a promise made to Tutu last year by French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

“This is marvellous,” Tutu told French ambassador Jacques Lapouge at Tuesday’s signing ceremony. “When is your president coming again?”

Agency chief executive Jean-Michel Severino said he and his colleagues were fulfilling a spiritual duty by handing over the cash, because when Sarkozy made the initial promise, Tutu had told him he would go to hell if he did not honour it.

“We are here to assist in his mounting up to heaven,” he said.

Tutu said he thanked the French on behalf of not only the foundation, but also those who would be helped by the money.

The foundation runs public health programmes and research at sites in Cape Town, operates a free mobile HIV and tuberculosis testing vehicle known as the Tutu Tester, and is involved in training health professionals.

It says the French funding will be used to fund research on earlier identification of HIV-positive people, and improving their access to care, and for better management of patients who have both HIV and tuberculosis.
‘We must stop trying to settle scores’
Earlier, an HIV/Aids association said that the recent calls for former president Mbeki and former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to be charged with genocide are unhelpful.

“We need to spend all the limited resources and time we have in fighting HIV and Aids rather than focusing on fighting people and things that happened in the past,” National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids secretary general Nkululeko Nxesi said in a statement.

The association was responding to calls by the Young Communist League for Mbeki to be brought to book for his handling of the HIV/Aids issue during his term of office.

“It is important that we move forward and stop trying to settle scores and by being vengeful.”

Nxesi said Tshabalala-Msimang’s statements about nutrition carried some weight.

“Many [people with HIV/Aids] still do not have access to nutrition and food security. This causes most of them not to take the treatment that is provided by the government clinics and hospitals.”

On Monday, Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota described calls for the genocide charges to be laid as irresponsible. Genocide was a deliberate policy or decision to kill people, he said. There was no such decision either by the ANC or Cabinet.

Lekota’s statement came a week after youth leader Julius Malema said the ANC Youth League would not allow Mbeki to be charged with genocide.

“We must never surrender our leaders,” Malema said at a gala dinner of the Pan African Youth Union in Boksburg last Monday.

“We must not charge one of our own. If we allow that, the same thing would happen to [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe, and the same would happen to [President Jacob] Zuma, and the next thing you know they will come for you,” he said.—Sapa