The Medical Research Council (MRC) is under great political pressure to toe the party line and become “the trusted scientific voice that justifies unscientific findings or pseudo-science”, according to MRC president Dr Malegapuru Makgoba.
In a stinging rebuke on government for interfering in the running of the MRC in the latest edition of “MRC News”, Makgoba vowed to resist political pressure “for as long as I live”.
The minister of health’s request for a forensic audit to try to determine who leaked an MRC report on AIDS-related mortality to the media and the “erroneous notion that MRC employees are government employees” had undermined the confidence and autonomy of the MRC, said Makogoba,
“The politicisation of scientific research, trying to do research according to political ideology and along party political lines, and trying to manage, recruit and appoint staff along these lines have never worked successfully anywhere where excellent science is being done,” said Makgoba.
He vowed to “nip this pernicious problem in the bud”. Evoking the spectre of scientists who had collaborated with regimes in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, he said “African political leadership should be ashamed of itself”.
Makgoba has served as MRC president for the past four years, and left at the end of August to take up the post of vice-chancellor of the University of Natal. During his time at the MRC, the council’s budget has increased from R70-million to R250-million and last year in won the World Technology Award.
However, while the MRC’s budget has been bolstered by government, Makgoba has been one of the few scientists prepared to condemn President Thabo Mbeki for disputing the link between HIV and AIDS.
This has seen a cooling of relations between the MRC and the president and the ANC government.