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Commentary & Opinion

Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Summarizes Reaction to Mandela's Announcement That Son Died of AIDS-Related Illness

January 10, 2005

Former South African President Nelson Mandela's "grief-laden disclosure" that his eldest son had died of AIDS-related complications last week has "won widespread praise" in a country where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is "still shrouded in silence," the AP/Chicago Sun-Times reports (Zavis, AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 1/9). Mandela on Thursday announced that his son Makgatho Mandela, who was 54, had died that day in a Johannesburg hospital from AIDS-related pneumonia -- a revelation that ended weeks of speculation that Makgatho had AIDS. Mandela last week at a news conference said, "I announce that my son has died of AIDS," adding, "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/7).

HIV/AIDS advocates, politicians and business leaders have since "praised Mandela's stand," saying that his announcement might "help fight the stigma that prevents many of the estimated 1,500 South Africans infected every day from seeking help before it's too late," according to the AP/Sun-Times. In a statement released on Friday, UNAIDS said that Mandela's disclosure "underscored that the pandemic knows no boundaries at its epicenter in sub-Saharan Africa," the AP/Sun-Times reports. "Increasingly all people in this region of the world are being affected by the pandemic," the statement said. The Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS also said that "it hoped the move would encourage more governments and businesses to take action against the disease," according to the AP/Sun-Times. Although the ruling African National Congress "extended its sympathy" to Mandela's family, the party "made no mention" of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the AP/Sun-Times reports. ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said that while the party "hoped" that Mandela's announcement would "lend impetus to the government's existing [HIV/AIDS] programs," it also "hoped it would not be used for political point-scoring," according to the AP/Sun-Times. Zackie Achmat, head of the South African HIV/AIDS advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said, "If the ANC used its moral stature in our communities, it could change perceptions fundamentally around the disease to affect both prevention and treatment," adding, "But it misses every opportunity" (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 1/9). Several newspapers also have published editorials and opinion pieces in reaction to Mandela's announcement. Summaries of the pieces appear below.


  • Globe and Mail: Although Mandela, since stepping down as president in 1999, has "spoken out about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and the need for his country and the world to treat those who have the virus and prevent others from contracting it," current South African President Thabo Mbeki "pretends not to know anyone who has died of AIDS," an editorial in Toronto's Globe and Mail says. "It is astonishing that a disease of such dimensions could still be regarded as extraordinary, but then, it is astonishing that a leader such as Mr. Mbeki could cling as long as he did to claims that HIV was not the source of AIDS and that reported infection rates were exaggerated," the editorial says (Globe and Mail, 1/10).

  • Gulf News: Africa "has reason to be grateful" to Mandela for his disclosure because for "too long AIDS has been a taboo subject in the continent with governments ignoring the benefits of educating their people on how to avoid contracting" HIV, a Gulf News editorial says. "This is a crisis that has been ignored not just by Africans but also by more developed nations. Mandela has spoken out because he knows silence condemns," the editorial says, concluding, "Others must also speak out and demand action" (Gulf News, 1/8).

  • New York Daily News: Although Mandela took a "commendable step to bring the country out of denial," many public health efforts to curb the spread of HIV in South Africa have been "hampered by cultural stigma," according to a Daily News editorial. It is "long past time" for Mbeki -- who "shamefully refused even to distribute antiretroviral drugs" until 2004 -- and other African presidents "to follow Mandela's courageous lead," the editorial concludes (New York Daily News, 1/8).

  • Ottawa Citizen: Although Mandela's goal to make HIV/AIDS a "normal illness" is "worthy," it also is "important to note that it's easier to protect oneself from AIDS than from most cancers," an Ottawa Citizen editorial says. "As Mr. Mandela seeks to remove the stigma of AIDS in Africa, it will be impossible for him -- or for other Africans -- not to talk about" the high-risk practices, such as unprotected sex or injection drug use, that "make it more likely someone will contract" HIV, the editorial concludes (Ottawa Citizen, 1/8).

  • San Francisco Chronicle: While Mandela's announcement is an "important step," it is "only the first one," a Chronicle editorial says. "Next must come programs that prevent infection and medical treatment that can extend life for those infected," the editorial says, concluding, "By sharing his personal tragedy, Mandela has made this job easier" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/10).

  • Tennessean: Even more "horrifying than the world's inability to deal with" the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa "has been the silence of the continent's own leadership," a Tennessean editorial says. Mandela has been "one of only a handful of leaders" in Africa to "openly crusade for stronger policies to fight AIDS," while Mbeki has been "almost criminally negligent in his dismissal" of HIV/AIDS, according to the Tennessean. "As Africa works to break free from its paralysis on AIDS policy, Mandela's bravery in the face of tragedy challenges his neighbors to a new responsibility. His heartbreak may again free millions," the editorial concludes (Tennessean, 1/10).

Opinion Pieces

  • Tony Leon, Los Angeles Times: While Mandela "has again found the courage his nation needs in a desperate time," Mbeki has "helped sustain the cloud of confusion that hovers over the pandemic" by portraying HIV/AIDS "as a racial issue," Leon, head of South Africa's Democratic Alliance, a leading opposition party, writes in a Times opinion piece. "It is well past time for South Africa to choose whether it is worth sacrificing our nation's future for the sake of the racial obsessions of decades past," Leon concludes (Leon, Los Angeles Times, 1/9).

  • Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald: Mandela's disclosure "may be the most courageous thing he's ever done -- both for Africa and for the United States" because the "African-American community has, albeit to a lesser degree, some of the same social conservatism and sense of stigma as sub-Saharan Africa," columnist Pitts writes in a Herald opinion piece. "Here's to hoping [Mandela's] show of guts inspires a few more, both in Africa and America," Pitts says, concluding, "People are dying here. Silence is not an option" (Pitts, Miami Herald, 1/10).

  • Peter Tatchell, Independent: Although Mandela is the "closest thing we have to a living saint," he has, "by his own admission, a less than heroic record on AIDS," columnist Tatchell writes in an opinion piece in London's Independent. However, it is "not too late for Mandela to make a huge difference," Tatchell writes, concluding that by "speaking out and shaming the ANC government into action, [Mandela] could help ensure that South Africa's biggest-post apartheid struggle secures its goal: HIV treatment for all who need it -- to halt needless, preventable deaths" (Tatchell, Independent, 1/9).

Back to other news for January 10, 2005

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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