Manuel demands apology

2008-01-30 00:00

FINANCE Minister Trevor Manuel has taken exception to a quote used by economist Nicoli Nattrass in her latest book Mortal Combat: Aids denialism and the struggle for antiretrovirals in South Africa, which was launched in Pietermaritzburg and Durban in June last year.

In a lawyer’s letter sent to the book’s publishers, the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, last week, the minister threatened to take legal action unless an apology is issued for what he claims is a misquote reproduced by Nattrass. Manuel also asks that the alleged error be corrected in subsequent print runs of the book and that a correction page be inserted into unsold copies.

Spokeswoman for the minister Thoraya Pandy confirmed that Manuel had “raised concerns with Nicoli Nattrass and her publisher about comments incorrectly attributed to him in her book”.

The quote in question originally appeared on the front page of the Business Day on March 19, 2003 — under the headline: “Manuel says Aids drugs are ‘a lot of voodoo’ ” — and read as follows: “Finance Minister Trevor Manuel last night dismissed ‘as a lot of voodoo’ claims about the effectiveness of antiretrovirals in the treatment of HIV/Aids and said spending government money on them was ‘a waste of very limited resources’”.

The quote was reproduced, with full references, by Nattrass in her book’s fifth chapter entitled “The Fight for Antiretrovirals: 2001 to 2003”.

On March 20, 2003 — two days after the debate in parliament — the online edition of the Mail & Guardian reported that Manuel had denied the comments attributed to him by the Business Day report and cited the Hansard transcripts (official parliamentary record) of the session in an attempt to clarify his comments. The following Monday, March 24, Business Day apologised for its “voodoo” headline, but stuck by the contents of its opening paragraph.

Nattrass is not the only author to have attracted the minister’s attention recently. In a notice placed in the Mail & Guardian on December 7, 2007, former ANC MP and author Andrew Feinstein acknowledged that, in his bestselling book After the Party, he had “misquoted the minister on the issue of antiretrovirals in Parliament in 2003”.

The notice followed a request from Manuel for a public apology from Feinstein and his publishers Jonathan Ball. News reports on December 8 quoted Feinstein saying that the matter had been “dealt with through the publisher’s lawyers”.

On Monday, University of KwaZulu-Natal lawyer Claude Bassuday said the university would respond shortly to Manuel’s letter in an “appropriate way”.

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