Duration: 4min 46sec

THABO MBEKI: It’€™s a period of hope because we are also saying what we must work to do is to build a people’€™s contract to create work and fight poverty.

KB: It is common knowledge that unemployment breeds poverty and that poverty makes people more vulnerable to diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Yet, the President failed to make this correlation in his election manifesto. This silence is all the more remarkable given the President’€™s frequent public reminders on how poverty influences the spread of the epidemic. Mark Haywood of the AIDS Law Project, says Mbeki’€™s omission of HIV/AIDS in his electioneering address is now becoming a pattern.

MARK HAYWOOD: If you just think back, say, just for a year at his speech opening Parliament in February 2002 the President, I think, had about 14 words that were combined on HIV and TB. So, on almost every major occasion since then, and most recently, on the anniversary of the ANC, the 92nd anniversary, he has been silent or near silent on the challenge that presents every person in this country and that presents every politician around HIV.

KB: Haywood described the President’€™s silence as confusing and a lost opportunity.

MARK HAYWOOD: We’€™re still uncertain as to whether the President even believes that there is such a thing as HIV. I think his silence would suggest that he’€™s still questioning the connection between HIV and AIDS. But put that aside for a minute. Regardless of what his personal views may be his government has committed to a national treatment programme that will cost something like R12 billion over the next five years. It is a major governmental programme and as a major governmental programme it needs the highest level of leadership and it needs a message to be given to the followers and the members of the ANC and it needs a message to be given to every person in the country.

KB: Others would argue that the President was speaking on Sunday as leader of the ANC and not as president of the country’€¦?

MARK HAYWOOD: Political leaders, particularly political leaders of powerful political parties have a responsibility. You can’€™t separate the issue of HIV, and say, well, if I’€™m the President, then perhaps I’€™ve a duty when I’€™m wearing my presidential hat to speak. But if I’€™m speaking today as leader of the ANC I’€™m under no obligation to speak. That’€™s a false distinction. HIV creeps into every area of our political life, every area of our governmental life, every level of our social life in this country’€¦ There was an opportunity by the President to prevent some people from being infected with HIV if he had spoken strongly on prevention. The failure to speak on that means that opportunity was missed and we cannot afford to keep on doing that.  

KB: His being quiet on the matter’€¦ would suggest, maybe, that he’€™s leaving this to the Health Minister to deal with’€¦ He’€™s been quoted saying things controversial ‘€“ and sometimes he’€™s been quoted out of context ‘€“ well, one would never be sure. But then wouldn’€™t it be safe for him with his views to be quiet?            

MARK HAYWOOD: The most serious national priorities need the stamp of approval and authority of the President. If the President appears to withhold that stamp, even if by silence and by omission, then in many people’€™s minds it feeds an uncertainty as to whether this problem is as serious as we actually say… So, yes, the Health Minister must speak’€¦ but HIV affects so many areas of life’€¦ that you cannot pin it and tie it down solely to the Ministry of Health.

KB: When Cabinet announced the HIV and AIDS Care and Treatment Plan last November, Mbeki was away on international business. Subsequently, he has made no public statements about the Plan. Until the Nelson Mandela-HSRC report of 2002, KwaZulu-Natal was the province with the highest prevalence of HIV in South Africa. Now, it ranks fourth. The Free State, the province that is next on Mbeki’€™s election drive, now has the most prevalence rates of HIV compared to the other eight provinces. It remains to be seen whether the President will once again ignore the topic ‘€“ or whether his own words will remind him of his responsibilities.

THABO MBEKI: We have a duty to make sure that we do not disappoint the expectations of these masses. We should go back to them and give a proper account’€¦ a truthful account of what we have done over the last ten years to make sure that their lives change for the better. And we must tell them what our election manifesto says; what it says about the future of South Africa for the next five years.  

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe


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