Zuma: Manto dedicated her life to SA

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday praised late health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, saying the country should stop “dwelling on the negative” of her Aids denialist policies.

The 69-year-old, a trained medical doctor, died last Wednesday due to complications from a 2007 liver transplant.

Tshabalala-Msimang was a selfless South African who experienced little joy in her life, Zuma said.

“We say with no fear of contradiction that she remains an undisputed hero of our struggle who dedicated her life to the ideal of a free and democratic South Africa,” he said, speaking at her state funeral in Pretoria.

He said Tshabalala-Msimang had little joy in her life due to the decision she took of not surrendering until South Africa and its people were free from racist oppression. Zuma said she had been part of the tireless pursuit of meaningful change and the improvement of the quality of life for all, especially the poorest of the poor.

“Today we are called upon not just to mourn her passing, but to celebrate a life that has unreservedly been dedicated to this country and its people.”

In honour of the late minister, the fight against poverty and hunger must be intensified.

“We must prioritise nutrition programmes and promote general health and well-being of our people,” he said.

As health minister until 2008, she was nicknamed “Doctor Beetroot” because she promoted the supposed benefits of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and beetroot over antiretrovirals as treatments for people with HIV.

Since her death, senior government officials and the African National Congress (ANC) have brushed aside the furore over her policies, which a Harvard study found caused more than 350 000 premature deaths in South Africa due to the lack of anti-Aids drugs.

“Today is not a day for recrimination or blame. It is not a day to look backwards and think of what should have been,” Zuma said.

“It is unfortunate that our country has developed a culture of dwelling on the negative and turning a blind eye to achievements,” he said.

Zuma praised her role in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Tshabalala-Msimang joined the ANC as a youth and went into exile from the apartheid state in the early 1960s to pursue her medical studies in the Soviet Union, Tanzania and Belgium.

Zuma, who took office in May, announced earlier this month a far-reaching expansion of public anti-Aids treatments, particularly for infants and mothers. The announcement was seen as a repudiation of the past policies of Tshabalala-Msimang and former president Thabo Mbeki, who publicly questioned scientific evidence that HIV causes Aids.

But Zuma has carefully avoided blaming his predecessor for Aids policies widely condemned as disastrous for South Africa.

“It must be placed on record that despite the controversies in the media, it was during her tenure as health minister that South Africa developed a comprehensive five-year HIV and Aids plan, and put impressive systems in place for the fight against HIV/Aids,” he said.

The Aids treatment scheme was only put in place after persistent pressure from activists who waged a court battle that forced the government to provide treatment.

An estimated 5,7-million of South Africa’s 48-million people have HIV, including 280 000 children, according to the UN Aids agency.—AFP, Sapa

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