Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
3 November 2007

After the party…. (I)

I am busy reading Andrew Feinstein’s book After the Party and it seems so far to be quite an honest book and quite scathing of President Thabo Mbeki and the ANC that he now leads. Of course, I immediately turned to the chapter on HIV/AIDS to see if there was anything new there.

Feinstein includes the verbatim notes he took of a speech President Thabo Mbeki gave to the ANC caucus two days after he announced he was withdrawing from the debate on HIV/AIDS. It was the same notes he leaked to the Mail & Guardian, so the speech became public knowledge and was widely reported on.

These notes remind us of what really happened and counter the arguments put forward by revisionists like Ronald Kevan Roberts who now claims the President never questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. How would the unlikeable Mr Roberts respond to the following statement by the President?


There is a huge amount of literature on these issues that we must read so that when we are bombarded with huge propaganda we can respond.

And what is the propaganda the President is talking about? Well, that HIV causes AIDS and that drugs can help stop the progression to AIDS. Thus:


If we say HIV=AIDS then we must say = drugs. Pharmaceutical companies want to sell drugs which they can’t do unless HIV causes AIDS, so they don’t want this thesis to be attacked. That is one problem.

The other one is the international political environment where the CIA has got involved. So, the US says we will give loans to Africa to pay for US drugs.

This clearly shows that the President is attacking the assumption that HIV causes AIDS and that he thinks there is a conspiracy out there to ensure that this line of questioning does not succeed. Reading this drivel I became so cross that when the President later complains about the British Press calling him “deranged”, I laughed.

For me the most interesting thing is the way in which President Mbeki and his supporters have tried to rewrite the history in this regard. When Stalin decided to get rid of an opponent for whatever paranoid reason, the official pictures were doctored so as to erase the man in question. Like a pictorial version Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, the pictures over the years became more sparely populated. Crowd scenes turned into intimate portraits of two or three people.

In a way President Thabo Mbeki’s supporters like Ronald Suresh Roberts are trying to do the same thing. The worst part is that these efforts are having some success. I was starting to doubt my own memory of 1999 and 2000 and was wondering whether Mbeki had really questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. Was this not another case of a “generally corrupt relationship” – a phrase we all thought was uttered by judge Hillary Squires in the Schabit Shaik case, but was not?

The fact is that President Thabo Mbeki did question the link between HIV and AIDS and Feinstein’s notes once again starkly remind us of this tragic and scandalous fact. We all lived through it and knew that it had happened, but the Stalinists among us are trying to deny us our own lived truth.

The tragedy is, of course, that many people believed the President and thus also started questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and questioned whether ARV’s could work. They did this because of their own denialism, convenience or out of a deep respect for authority – and consequently many of them died needlesly. Long after we are all dead, the historians who write our President’s biography will point this out and will conclude that Mr. Mbeki was a disastrous and tragic leader.

What the Feinstein book also reminds us of is that no one else in the ANC spoke out. In fact Trevor Manuel, the darling of the liberal press called ARV’s Voodoo medicine and ridiculed those who argued for its use. We should therefore not only condemn Mbeki but we should condemn our other leaders and ourselves for not speaking up. For fearing to speak up against our President.

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