Von Mollendorff: No going back

Nelspruit - Controversial Mpumalanga health MEC Sibongile Manana withdrew charges of misconduct and insubordination against popular HIV/Aids activists Dr Thys von Mollendorff on Monday.

Manana fired the Rob Ferreira hospital superintendent in 2001 for allowing anti-rape volunteers from the Greater Nelspruit Rape Intervention Project (Grip) to operate on the hospital's premises.

The MEC was incensed that the volunteers were giving rape survivors access to free lifesaving drugs such as AZT and 3TC when President Thabo Mbeki at the time questioned HIV's link to Aids and the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs.

Manana's legal representatives withdrew charges of misconduct and insurbodination against Von Mollendoff during a Public Service Bargaining Council hearing on Monday.

Taxpayers will now be forced to foot Dr Von Mollendorff's legal bill, which is estimated to be more than R100 000. The department will also pay him a full year's salary and benefits as compensation.

'No case'

"They just realised that they had no case against my client," said Dr Von Mollendorff's lawyer, Eric Louw, triumphantly. "Justice has been done."

A small group of about 20 Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) supporters picketed outside Mpumalanga's government buildings in support of the doctor.

A relieved Dr Von Mollendorff said he was no longer willing to work at Rob Ferreira hospital, however.

"I can't go back there because I need to work in a place where patients come first," he said.

"Everybody knew all along that I've been right but now I'm happy that my name has been cleared," said Dr Von Mollendorff.

He said he might go into full-time family practice.

Dr Von Mollendorff, a humble man with no apparent political aspirations, was forced to dig in his heels insisting that his co-operation with Grip was ethical and in line with the Hippocratic Oath to serve the best interest of his patients.

Health spokesperson Dumisani Mlangeni was not available to comment.

Dropped eviction attempts

Manana has also dropped her legal attempts to evict Grip from Rob Ferreira, as well as Themba hospital in KaBokweni near White River, where volunteers not only provide access to anti-retroviral drugs, but also 24-hour rape counselling and advice on legal assistance.

Manana dropped the eviction attempts on Wednesday last week at the insistence of public protector Lawrence Mushwana.

Spokesperson for the Rural Doctors Association Dr Elma de Vries said that the organisation was delighted with both Grip and Dr Von Mollendorff's victory.

"This will give doctors more courage to do what is right," she said. "It was such a drawn-out process which shouldn't have taken place at all." - African Eye News Service

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