Thabo Mbeki: Wrong to compare R29bn spent on arms with HIV spend

2014-07-18 16:42

Former president Thabo Mbeki has been asked how his administration justified spending billions on the arms deal but not on antiretrovirals in 1999.

“It is wrong only to discuss the costs when talking about HIV/Aids. Look at government policy,” Mbeki told to tell the Seriti Commission of Inquiry sitting in Pretoria today.

“I don’t know if this is part of the mandate of the commission?” he asked.

Lawyers for Human Rights advocate Anna-Marie de Vos asked Mbeki how government at the time could say that providing ARVs was too expensive, yet it paid billions on a deal to re-equip the SA National Defence Force.

“The issue is important because if the question of cost in any way prohibited the decision ... [then the] R29 billion spent on arms could not have been rational.”

Mbeki insisted the two could not be compared as the cost of antiretroviral drugs was a global issue.

While he was president, Mbeki was criticised for his stance on HIV/Aids and was labelled an “Aids denialist” because he questioned scientific evidence that HIV caused Aids, saying other factors such as poverty may be causing it.

His critics felt he and his then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s reluctance to provide ARVs in public health facilities was catastrophic. Tshabalala-Msimang advocated beetroot, garlic and olive oil instead.

The commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the country’s multi-billion-rand arms procurement deal in 1999.

Mbeki was president of the country at the time and Zuma his deputy.

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