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Mbeki hits out at 'The Independent' in HIV row

By Basildon Peta

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has lashed out angrily at international condemnation of his handling of the country's crippling HIV/Aids epidemic, and specifically, the sacking last week of his deputy health minister. He suggested that the criticism reflected unease at South Africa's transition from white minority rule to democratic rule.

Mr Mbeki singled out The Independent for its reporting of the sacking of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a decision which Aids campaigners said reopened questions about the President's acceptance of the science surrounding HIV and Aids, and his commitment to accelerating access to drug treatment that lags behind poorer African countries.

Writing in the ANC newsletter, Mr Mbeki accused Mrs Madlala-Routledge's supporters of erroneously depicting her as a "super-heroine". The Independent, he said, had "even felt entitled and obliged to tell a litany of blatant untruths to promote a deliberately negative agenda about the ANC and our government, which Ms Madlala-Routledge, consciously or unwittingly, has seemed very determined to advance".

Mr Mbeki said the "hue and cry" surrounding Mrs Madlala-Routledge's firing was absurd because she had little or no involvement in the development of two of the ANC's national strategic programmes to combat Aids. He accused her and her supporters of manufacturing "fabrications" to suggest the opposite.

The President also insisted that Mrs Madlala-Routledge had the opportunity to air her dissenting views in Cabinet.

Mrs Madlala-Routledge, a vocal critic of the government's Aids policies, was officially sacked for travelling to Spain to attend an Aids conference without authorisation from the President.

She had clashed with Mr Mbeki in the past, however, infuriating him for an interview in which she called on ANC leaders to help overcome the stigma aroundthe disease by publicly taking a test for HIV. She also had repeated run-ins with the health minister and close presidential ally, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has been the object of fierce international criticism for promoting beetroot, garlic and lemons as treatment for HIV patients and for questioning the benefits of anti-retroviral treatment.

Mr Mbeki's outburst came after a week of fierce condemnation of his decision to remove her. The former UN special envoy on Aids in Africa, Stephen Lewis, accused Mr Mbeki of presiding over an "Aids apocalypse" and said the dismissal of the widely praised deputy health minister crushed a glimmer of hope in the fight against Aids.

"Other than South Africa, every government in the high-prevalence countries is moving heaven and earth to keep its people alive," he said. Mr Mbeki, Mr Lewis said, would always be known as "the president who presided over the Aids apocalypse. It is a terrible legacy with which to haunt the pages of history."


From Belfast Telegraph