Monday, May 03, 2004

Buthelezi Does Something Positive for a Change

Over the years, Mangosuthu Buthelezi's mostly been in the news for some bit of trouble or other he's had a hand in fomenting, but for once, news coverage of his actions actually has him doing something positive: breaking the taboo amongst prominent black South Africans about discussing the personal impact of their country's AIDS epidemic on their own lives.

The leader of South Africa's Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has revealed that his son Prince died of Aids.

"I reach out to all the other people who died of HIV/Aids. My son did," the country's Sunday Independent quoted the former home minister as saying.

The comments have been hailed as a move which could help break the stigma surrounding the disease.

About 5.3 million South Africans live with HIV or Aids.

"I feel the pain for the many children of Africa who are now dying an untimely and terrible death. I am in mourning," Mr Buthelezi said at his son's funeral.

"We are a nation which ought to be in mourning."

A spokesman for the Aids Unit in KwaZulu-Natal said he hoped Mr Buthelezi's comments would "go a long way in what we have always asked for - that we should not stigmatise HIV and Aids".

Chris Mokolatsie told the Pretoria News paper they might help to "accept the reality of the illness in our homes".

Poor record

With one of the highest prevalence rates in the world, the South African government has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue of Aids.

Last year President Thabo Mbeki denied knowing anyone affected by the disease.

And at one time he questioned the link between Aids and HIV.

Aids campaigners and opposition parties have criticised Mr Mbeki for the reappointment of the country's controversial health minister in a recent cabinet reshuffle.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has suggested that those with HIV should eat beetroot and garlic.

Her department has been attacked for blocking the roll-out of Aids drugs and sending out confusing messages on the illness.

Given the prevalence of HIV in South Africa even under the most conservative estimates, the likelihood that Mbeki was being honest with himself when he claimed not to know a single person suffering from AIDS is essentially zero. As for his "health" minister, Manto-Tshabalala-Msimang, the fact that Mbeki could keep on a crank crazy/stupid enough to suggest beetroot and garlic as AIDS remedies strongly suggests that South Africa's President continues to harbor the same old doubts that have already cost so many of his citizens their lives.

With the way things are going, it isn't out of the question that future generations of South Africans will look upon Mbeki's record in office and decide that his negligence on this one issue far outweighed all the positves of his tenure in office. Does Thabo Mbeki really want to join Nongqawuse in the ranks of those whose names are cursed by black South Africans?