Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
21 August 2007

Manto and doctors must sue or else….

The Sunday Times is now being attacked from all sides for publishing the sensational allegations that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang was convicted thief and alcoholic and that the real reasons for her liver transplant (alcoholism) was covered up by medical staff. The National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC (but not Kgalema Montlante!) issued a statement yesterday attacking the Sunday Times for its “character assassination” of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang. The statement read in part:

“The national working committee views these reports with grave concern, not merely because [they] violate an individual’s right to privacy, but because [they] affect the right of all South Africans to expect their medical information to remain confidential.”

But the privacy of the Minister is not really the issue. Surely the statement from the ANC should have disputed the accuracy of the claims made by the Sunday Times. The “character assassination” by the Sunday Times does not stem from the breach of the Minister’s medical privacy, but from seriously defamatory statements about her drinking habits and about the abuse of power and corruption by the Minister and her Doctors.

The only way the Minister, the doctors involved and the Hospital can restore their reputations is by instituting a defamation action against the Sunday Times. If the allegations are untrue, they will be able to sue the pants of the newspaper and probably get a pretty penny out of the deal.

If they fail to sue, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn would be that the newspaper report was correct and that there was corruption involved in the liver transplant. If this happens, the Minister should be fired and the Doctors scrapped from the medical roll.

The Presidency has asked for evidence of wrongdoing before taking action against the Minister. All the proof it may need will be provided by the absence of a defamation suit. But of course, even then the President will not fire the Minister because he will look weak and disloyal if he does. This means he is now probably stuck with a Minister which may well prove to be a thief and drunk and an abuser of her power.

I give the Minister and her Doctors two weeks to institute defamation proceedings. If they fail to do so, I will assume that the story is true.

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