Mail & Guardian

'We don't need red herrings'

29 Sep 2003 11:53 | Staff Reporter

The presidency has moved to limit damage arising from remarks made by President Thabo Mbeki about him not knowing anyone who has died from Aids.

In a statement to government news agency BuaNews, which reported that the presidency "has moved to put the record straight and clarify distorted reports about President Thabo Mbeki's recent interview with The Washington Post", presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said: "At the end of the interview the president agreed to being asked a personal question, which was whether he knew of anyone in his family or amongst his close associates who had died of Aids or was infected by HIV.

"It was these questions specifically about people close to him that the president answered, and his negative replies do not support any broader interpretation that some media have given them," explained Khumalo in a statement to BuaNews.

Khumalo added that people ought to remember that the health status of individuals as well as causes of death were personal matters, which people did not have to declare to the president.

He noted that in the Washington Post interview Mbeki confirmed that a national task team charged with preparing an operational plan on public-sector anti-retroviral therapy was within days of completing its work.

BuaNews stated that in presenting his report to the United Nations General Assembly special session, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan singled out South Africa for tripling its resource allocation for HIV/Aids programmes since the adoption of the UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/Aids in 2001.

The agency also reported Khumalo as saying that the South African government did not need "red herrings" that diverted from the real issues at a time when it was making progress in combating HIV/Aids.

"We would expect that opposition parties would seek to distort things and create doubt, but we don't expect that of the media. We expect them to report objectively," he said.

On Thursday September 25 The Washington Post's staff writer Peter Slevin reported that Mbeki had said that no one close to him had perished from the disease. It said in quotes: "Personally, I don't know anybody who has died of

Aids."

Asked whether he knew anyone with HIV, the reporter stated Mbeki added quietly: "I really, honestly don't." -- I-Net Bridge

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