Thabo Mbeki defends Manto against Aids policy critics

2009-12-18 00:00

PRETORIA — Former president Thabo Mbeki yesterday defended his good fr iend, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, via his spokesperson and denied that thousands of South Africans died because of the Aids policy his administration implemented.

“Antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) have always been part of the public health system and the people have always received them,” Mbeki’s spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said yesterday during a telephone interview.

According to research done by the Harvard School of Public Health in the U.S., over 330 000 people died as a result of Aids between 2000 and 2005 because they did not receive ARVs from the government in time.

Ratshitanga said the Health Department, with the guidance of Tshabalala-Msimang, followed a “holistic approach” to fight HIV and Aids.

“If you put this policy and the implementation thereof under a microscope, it’s difficult to comprehend where anyone could find the proof of 330 000 deaths.”

When asked how Mbeki is taking the criticism against his friend, Ratshi­tanga said that everyone living in a democracy is entitled to their own opinion.

“I’m not her (Tshabalala-Msimang’s) spokesperson, but I can’t remember that she ever said that HIV does not cause Aids.”

Ratshitanga said the former Health minister’s greatest critics prefer to focus on her prescription of beetroot, garlic, olive oil and lemons as a means of fighting HIV/Aids.

“She simply mentioned those as examples of foods which can fortify the immune system. Nutrition was only one of the aspects of the holistic approach. There was also a focus on prevention, condoms, and the breaking down of the stigma.”

Mbeki was in Sudan when he received the message that Tshabalala-Msimang had died.

“It’s a bad loss. I’ve known her for over four decades,” he told journalists yesterday afternoon, shortly after conveying his condolences to her family at her house in Waterkloof Ridge, Pretoria.

“It was a shock. I knew she wasn’t in good health, but there were no indications that she was so severely ill. I regret being abroad because I would have been able to see her and say goodbye if I’d been in the area over the past two days,” said Mbeki.

“She was truly devoted to helping other people in a selfless and humble manner. She never wanted to be seen as a prominent role player [in the ANC],” he said.

After having achieved her BA degree at the University of Fort Hare, Tshabalala-Msimang was part of a group of students, led by Mbeki, who pretended to be soccer players in order to flee the country.

“Her death leaves a void for us, the generation who knew her,” said Mbeki. “As a country and a nation we should give her a proper farewell.”

Tshabalala-Msimang’s son-in-law, Martin Kingston, and her stepson, Mandla Msimang, were at Mbeki’s side.

Several top ANC officials visited the family, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The funeral arrangements will be announced today.

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