South Africa: President Mbeki Fails to Address AIDS Issue
February 18, 2003
Thousands of AIDS activists wearing T-shirts reading "HIV Positive" jammed the streets outside Parliament in Cape Town Friday as President Thabo Mbeki addressed lawmakers in a speech that virtually ignored the pandemic ravaging South Africa.Adapted from:
Mbeki's annual state of the nation address focused instead on his government's pledge to fight poverty. He made little reference to AIDS, relegating it to one paragraph after speaking about malaria and TB. Mbeki's only reference to the disease was: "We will continue to focus on the treatment of sexually transmitted infections ... we will continue to implement the government's comprehensive strategy on HIV and AIDS, relating to all elements of this strategy."
Most of his speech was devoted to his government's efforts to uplift social conditions. To this end he announced an increase in old age and disability pensions, and the extension of the national child support grant to include children up to the age of 14 years. These were all decisions taken at the ruling African National Congress' annual congress held late last year.
During Mbeki's speech, activists from the Treatment Action Campaign protested outside. Activists called on the government to provide AIDS drugs to some 4.7 million people infected with HIV. Wearing red and white T-shirts with the words "HIV Positive" emblazoned on the front and back and some reading "Stand up for our Lives," the protesters chanted "HIV treatment for all."
"I was amazed that he could only find it in his heart to manage one or two sentences on HIV/AIDS," said Tony Leon, the leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. "We cannot pretend things are normal in this country when so many people are dying from a treatable disease," said opposition lawmaker Patricia de Lille from the Pan Africanist Congress, who chose to protest instead of taking her seat in Parliament. "As an AIDS activist I am coming out in solidarity with civil society and labor," she said.
02.14.03; Ken Daniels
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.