Full Speech of Deputy President Jacob Zuma at the opening of the 2003 South African AIDS Conference


The Convenors of the South African AIDS Conference, Professors Coovadia and Prof Abdool-Karim,Ms Gravero, Executive Deputy Director of UNAIDS, Members of Parliament and Legislative assemblies,
Mayors, South African National AIDS Council members, People living with HIV, AIDS, and TB Community and business leaders, Representatives of non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations, Esteemed guests:

I am deeply honoured to be able to join you today at the opening of the South African AIDS Conference, on behalf of the South African Government and as Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council.

This is a crucial conference, given the challenge that we face in our country and the continent. It compels our attention and demands our response.

The disease continues to cause devastation, and it exposes the inequality between rich and poor, and between men and women.

The challenge lies in powerful and continuous action to prevent new infections and to provide care and support for the many who are infected or affected.

Many of those being infected are from the most vulnerable people in society, but increasingly many within the middle class.

The continent, SADC region and South Africa in particular have mounted a huge response to the epidemic.

In South Africa, our ability to respond effectively has been hampered in the main by the negative legacy left by the apartheid regime.

We are faced with huge capacity challenges, poor health and education infrastructure in many parts of the country, and that is our reality, which we must bear in mind as we respond to this huge challenge.

The challenges, which face this new democracy, often raise serious ethical and human rights questions:

* What do governments owe their citizens who are ill in terms of provision of health care and other social support?

* How should the needs of those with HIV infection be balanced against the needs of those with other life threatening diseases?

* When resources are insufficient, is it acceptable for some to benefit and not others? If so, how should such selection be made?

Each of the above questions present decision makers with difficult choices and they may require difficult trade-offs.

Each of us has different values, interests and responsibilities but our common objective must be to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor in our country.

I believe that there are six key ways in overcoming these challenges:

  • Political leadership;
  • Mobilising the many communities of South Africa;
  • Finding effective scientific solutions;
  • Resourcing the response of HIV and AIDS;
  • Preventing stigma; and
  • The establishment of partnerships by all stakeholders.

At this national platform I would like to reiterate what we never questioned the existence of HIV and AIDS. We are only trying to understand the causal factors beyond the virus. HIV and AIDS are regarded as a national priority. Government involvement is a product of political will and practical capacity.

We developed a comprehensive five-year strategic plan to address HIV, AIDS and STIs in 2000. To plan five years ahead, we needed a vision not only of where the epidemic will likely be, and where we as government needs to be, but also where the response in communities and sectors should be if we are to change the course of the epidemic.

Secondly, we need to continue to mobilise the many communities of South Africa

We are fortunate to have a very strong and vocal civil society response to HIV and AIDS. NGOs and CBOs have gone a long way in the last few years to ensure that people living with HIV and AIDS have access to services, thereby complementing the work of government.

However, whereas the national government is responsible for broad policy and guidance, it is critical that stakeholders at local level plan jointly to address common problems. It is only through mobilising the resources of local government, business, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders and healers and other stakeholders towards the specific needs of a community that success can be ensured.

The national government can set the policy framework, but can never know the skills and resources available in individual communities.

Non-government actors include large corporations that can do so much more to show leadership by providing effective services to their workforces and the families of their workforces, right through to small traders and little shops as you find in every village and community. All these actors must be mobilised.

Thirdly, we need to continue to find effective scientific solutions.

I am proud to say that South African researchers have done a lot of scientific research – and we have made a lot of progress in understanding the epidemic, but we are still seeking ways of effectively containing its spread.

That is why our research efforts are ongoing, as we cannot rest until we are able to make a meaningful impact.

Ladies and Gentlemen, some people sometimes feel that the Government is not caring for people that are infected with HIV and AIDS by not providing them with antiretroviral therapy. We are in the process of finalising several international agreements that will ensure access to medication to the many people infected with HIV and AIDS.

We also strongly believe that we need to ensure that necessary infrastructure is in place, including laboratory support, adherence to drug therapy, and social structures and services that support this intervention.

The fourth response is the provision of resources for HIV and AIDS programmes.

We recognise the importance of eradicating poverty to combat the spread of HIV, as well as the impact of poverty on people already infected with HIV.

Plans to prevent and treat HIV must be complemented by plans to alleviate and eradicate poverty, including building the economy, creating jobs, improving access to clean water, better housing and sanitation, access to improved nutrition, welfare grants and other development measures.

In the current Medium Term Expenditure Framework period of 2003/4 to 2005/6, National Treasury has set aside R3.3 billion in the fight against HIV and AIDS. These funds are to be channelled to Health, Education and Social Development. A significant portion is to be provided as part of the conditional grant system, with R2 billion of this made available as part of the equitable share to strengthen the health system in provinces.

The equitable share is the major source of health funding to the provinces, and in the next MTEF period this amount is increased to cater for specific HIV, AIDS and TB spending.

In the coming year we can expect even further increases, with funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Bill Clinton Foundation and the US Emergency Fund.

But as the resources to address AIDS grow, it will be also vital to ensure that we can show results and ensure accountability. Otherwise, these resources will not be sustainable.

When speaking about money, I always see a coin, but a coin with two sides: one side is the monetary value, the other side is the people and the institutions. We have to invest in both.

Financial resources speak for themselves: investing in AIDS prevention and treatment today means saving millions of lives tomorrow, preserving societal stability, and ensuring economic prosperity.

The fifth element is the prevention of stigma. We must keep stigma and discrimination uppermost in our thoughts as we tackle the unwarranted and unreasonable stigma that is attached to HIV. Stigma kills. Often society kills people living with HIV before the virus kills them. Let’s not forget that.

Just as the government has helped to bring down the historic barriers of apartheid, so too, people living with HIV must be afforded protection and dignity.

The outcomes that are required for success are clear:

  • The application of proven leadership from all of us in government and civil society will slow the spread of the epidemic;
  • The extension of access to care and treatment will lessen the impact of the epidemic on individuals and the nation; and
  • The extension of ongoing scientific research will reduce the vulnerability of those infected and affected

I would like to once again pledge the commitment of the whole government of South Africa, from the national, provincial government to the local authorities as well as my personal commitment to fully implement HIV and AIDS prevention, care and support programmes in every province, every district and every community.

The pharmaceutical industry must keep its promise to make AIDS drugs available to developing countries at affordable prices.

Scientists must continue to work where the real needs are, not just where the funding and credit lies. They should continue their search for an AIDS vaccine.

Civil society leaders must be uncompromising advocates for all their constituencies, not just the elite few.

Together we can do something about this epidemic, we are not powerless. If we, in this conference do not believe that we can stop this epidemic, then who will?

All of us at this conference need to strategise, to think through what we can do to make a difference, in our community, in our country. And then, once we have the resolutions, do not think you can do it in isolation: find partners, join forces, seek support and form alliances.

We must resist all attempts to have our priorities determined by those who do not have an understanding of what our vision is. I often say that having come so far, how can anyone believe that we will desert our country and the people in the face of such a threat.

This conference must rise to the challenge to bring government and civil society together; to create a powerful AIDS movement extending beyond the achievements of the past; and to turn the focus to the places where HIV and AIDS persist.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise and assure you that as government we have done our level best to attend to the HIV and AIDS challenge, and that we will continue to do so. Another one of the evidence of our hard work is that the awareness level on HIV and AIDS among South Africans has exceeded 90%. The bigger challenge is: What do we do with regard to changing our behaviour?

I wish you success in achieving the goals of your conference.

I thank you.


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