Mbeki versus HIV/AIDS (2016)

Copy of the #TheSafeSpace Column published in the Times Of Swaziland on 9 March 2016.

Not so long ago, I was looking out of the window, staring at the skies and marvelling at the way birds go about their daily routines. After a couple of hours, I logged onto the internet and discovered that Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has started publishing articles on his Foundation’s website. We were told that the rationale behind this new move was to discuss key incidents that occurred during his nine year presidency from 1999. I panicked. I panicked because there is a well-documented stance that he took on HIV/AIDS and since he had not publicly apologized for it, I was afraid that he was going to address it with the same rhetoric he used 16 years ago.

Two days ago, my fear became a reality. In an article titled, ‘A Brief Commentary on the Question of HIV and AIDS’, the former President attempts to ‘set the record straight’ by basically saying the same thing that ruffled feathers in the past. For those who are not aware, as President, Thabo Mbeki questioned the relationship between HIV and AIDS. His stance interrupted the flow of Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to the affected population and some studies indicate that this led to over 300 000 deaths. President Mbeki’s suspicions didn’t end with HIV leading to AIDS, they also included accusations on pharmaceutical corporations for simply wanting to cash in on drug sales and questioning why HIV/AIDS in Africa seems to be deadlier than in the West. Arming himself with ancient medical statistics, novice PR expertise and misguided information, President Mbeki stood firm on his position; earning him the label of ‘AIDS Denialist’.

As I have previously stated in the past and will continue to do so in the future; we need to always question the world around us because some things are not what they seem. Unfortunately the former President went about this in the wrong way and 16 years later he shows no remorse for the lives that his decisions affected in a multitude of ways. At a time when HIV/AIDS was feared and viewed as a death sentence, Mbeki should have fully understood his role not only as leader of South Africa but a leader in the region. His political fatherly instincts should have kicked in, ensuring that his main objective remains focused on the livelihood of the people he had sworn to protect. It is disappointing that will never be able to quantify and hold him accountable for the lives that were affected and the confusion his words caused towards the active participation of the SADC region in responding to HIV/AIDS.

For a man who is now focused on philanthropy and preserving his legacy, I am surprised that he has chosen to stir up the hornet’s nest rather than taking the opportunity to effectively deal with a dirty stain on his presidency. I am even more surprised that his inner professional circle could let him make such a Public Relations mess at a time when he is trying to re-define himself as a man to count on. All in all, I shall continue to monitor this situation carefully and maybe, just maybe, Mr Mbeki will release a statement distancing himself from the recent article and stating that his website was hacked. Fingers crossed.

Feel free to share your comments with me through Twitter (@chr1sfleming), blog (www.chr1sfleming.wordpress.com) or email (christian-fleming@outlook.com. Until we meet again, goodbye.

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Feature image source: http://www.buzzsouthafrica.com

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