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16 Dec 2009 15:08
Former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has died, her doctor confirmed on December 16.
Professor Jeff Wing told Sapa Tshabalala-Msimang died in the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre and Medi-Clinic ICU “about a minute ago”, shortly before 3pm.
He said she died from complications related to her first liver transplant in 2007.
Tshabalala-Msimang underwent a five-hour liver transplant at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre on March 14 2007 and in November was readmitted to hospital with complications.
Tshabalala-Msimang was first admitted to Johannesburg Hospital late in 2006 with a lung ailment. She was discharged a few weeks later to recuperate at home, but returned to work in January, reportedly against doctors’ orders.
She was again admitted to the same hospital’s intensive care unit on February 20, after raising eyebrows during a media briefing at Parliament a week earlier, where she appeared to be ill.
Never far from controversy, Tshabalala-Msimang’s views on the treatment of HIV/Aids drew international condemnation, especially her advocacy of beetroot, garlic, and African potatoes as nutritional supplements to fight the disease.
This led to her being dubbed “Dr Beetroot” by critics.
Her views on the use of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in the treatment of Aids often provoked vehement opposition from both Aids activists and experts alike.
In 2004, she said: “I have always said there are three options ...
and we must remember that ARVs are not a cure and they do have side-effects.”
She said at the time that garlic, lemon, olive oil and beetroot “are absolutely critical—first of all to have a beautiful face and beautiful skin—but they also protect you from disease”.
Tshabalala-Msimang was widely seen as championing former president Thabo Mbeki’s views on Aids, and was supportive of so-called Aids dissidents, who questioned the link between HIV and Aids, and pinned the cause of the disease on nutritional deficiencies.
Her statements on this matter often appeared contradictory.
On more than one occasion she vehemently denied suggestions she believed the herbs and vegetables she championed were a substitute for ARVs, and was often at pains to make it clear good nutrition was an important part of fighting the virus.
An incident at the International Aids Conference in Canada, when Aids activists vandalised a South African department of health exhibition displaying samples of Tshabalala-Msimang’s vegetables, left the South African government red-faced.
Calls were made to Mbeki to remove his health minister, but these were not heeded by the president.
These calls reached a peak after Tshabalala-Msimang’s hospitalisation.
During her absence, former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and former deputy health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge began talks with civil society groups on the treatment of Aids.
Another controversial issue during Tshabalala-Msimang’s tenure as health minister were her efforts to reduce the cost of medicines to the public.
These raised the ire of pharmacists around South Africa, who took her to court, claiming she was threatening their continued existence.
She also created a media ethics debate over the reporting of information deemed to be between a doctor and a patient when she was in hospital.
The Sunday Times had reported that in spite of her condition she was consuming alcohol, and had sent hospital staff to purchase wine.
Tshabalala-Msimang was born on October 9 1940 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
She matriculated from Inanda Seminary, and went on to earn a BA degree from the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, graduating in 1961.
In 1962, shortly after the African National Congress was banned, Tshabalala-Msimang was one of a group of 27 young members of the organisation ordered to go into exile by the ANC leadership.
She went to the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, where she enrolled at the First Leningrad Medical Institute. She graduated from that institution with a medical degree in 1969.
Tshabalala-Msimang later moved to Tanzania, where in 1972 she completed a diploma in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Dar es Salaam.
One legacy of her time spent in these two countries was an ability to speak fluent Russian and Swahili.
Tshabalala-Msimang went on to work in health services in Tanzania and Botswana. She returned to South Africa in 1990, and at first worked in community health organisations in KwaZulu-Natal.
She was first elected to Parliament in 1994. She served as chairperson of the National Assembly’s health committee, and on July 1 1996, was appointed deputy justice minister.
She was appointed minister of health in Mbeki’s administration on June 17 1999.
She was married to ANC veteran Mendi Msimang. She has two daughters, Zuki and Pulane.—Sapa
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