Allies, detractors mourn Manto

2009-12-17 10:40

Political allies of former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

offered praise in the wake of her death yesterday while her many detractors

muted their criticism and offered condolences to her family.

“As minister of health she contributed effectively in the

enhancement of government programmes with regards to child and maternal health,

which were her particular interests, as well as in responding to diabetes and

other chronic diseases,” the Presidency said.

“Despite the controversies in the media during her tenure as health

minister, South Africa scored impressive improvements in putting systems in

place for the fight against HIV and Aids.”

While she was health minister, Tshabalala-Msimang had been

criticised by Aids activists for her stance on the distribution of

anti-retrovirals in the public health system, particularly to block the

transmission of HIV from mother-to-child.

Tshabalala-Msimang was accused of downplaying the importance of

ARV’s while extolling nutrition, often in the form of beet root, garlic and

olive oil, as a treatment for HIV.

Though many were loudly critical of her position, most of her

opponents avoided mentioning their disagreements while offering their


The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), were among her most ardent

foes and participated in a legal action against her to force the government to

provide anti-retrovirals as part of the public health system.

Despite this antagonistic past, the TAC said it wished no ill will.

“We don’t wish ill on any human being even though we had a very

difficult time with her as minister of health,” said TAC general secretary

Vuyiseka Dubula.

“We are sending our condolences to her family and children.”

Similarly the Democratic Alliance (DA), which in the past had

rarely spared Tshabalala-Msimang of criticism, offered their condolences while

declining to comment on her professional legacy.

“Like many politicians she was controversial,” said DA leader Helen

Zille said. “However, that doesn’t detract from the sadness of her death.”

Some opposition politicians such as Independent Democrats leader

Patricia de Lille even offered conditional praise.

De Lille said it was unfortunate that Tshabalala-Msimang would

always be remembered for her stance on HIV/Aids.

“...But that should not take away the good things she did in her


The Young Communist League (YCL), which had previously called for

Tshabalala-Msimang to be charged with genocide due to the lives of poor South

African lost due to a lack of access to ARV’s, and the Congress of SA Trade

Unions (Cosatu) offered her praise without condoning her position on


“In as much as we have differed and challenged her...we can never

forget her unqualified contribution to the liberation of this country,” said the


“She will not only be remembered for her views on HIV/Aids, but

also her role in fighting for democracy.”

“She made some mistakes by driving those [HIV/Aids] policies but

she was a human being,” said Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini. “Her loss is a

great loss. South Africa is losing a great leader of the ANC.”

Going against this trend was Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter


“Of course one expresses sympathy to the people who were close to

her...It is always sad when somebody dies,” said Mulder. “However, she probably

was one of the most controversial ministers in (former President Thabo) Mbeki’s

cabinet,” he said.

“To be honest, I often disagreed with her as minister of health and

confronted her especially in parliament about her stance on vegetables as

alternative care to ARVs [anti-retrovirals] in the fight against HIV/Aids,” said


Many political allies such as SA Communist Party and SA National

Civic Organisation as well as some ministers in government offered her praise

for her legacy as a leader, gender activist and struggle veteran.

However, oblique reference to her time as Health minister was made

by Energy minister Dipuo Peters.

Peters said it might be too early for anyone to “grasp in its

fullness the contribution that she made to the battle for truth and

evidence-based policy making in the country.”

“But surely that time will come,” said Peters.

More directly, Congress of the People Youth Movement (CopeYM)

defended her health legacy and said her stance on Aids was “intentionally


“Although many might have intentionally misinterpreted her stance

of good nutrition to HIV/Aids infected people, she demonstrated commitment to

that stance regardless of the criticism it earn her,” the CopeYM said in a


“This was the feature in her which proved her leadership quality

which must be celebrated as she is now no more.”

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