by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
After Nelson Mandela retired from the presidency of South Africa in June 1999, he began an entirely new career as an AIDS activist.
Taking on HIV/AIDS is a tough challenge anywhere, but particularly so in South Africa. In the year Mandela left the presidency, it was estimated that one in ten South Africans was HIV-positive. The situation today is even worse, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations agency charges with monitoring the disease. Some 18% of South Africans are estimated to be HIV-positive, approximately 6 million people.
As President, Mandela was criticized - even by some of his associates like judge and AIDS activist Edwin Cameron - for neglecting the epidemic.
Mandela appointed Cameron, an openly Gay man, to South Africa's High Court in 1995, and to the Constitutional Court in 1999. Cameron was the first Director of the AIDS Law Project, and he is the author of Defiant Desire - Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, as well as several legal texts.
In response to Cameron's criticism, Mandela himself admitted he had not done enough to control AIDS, leaving the issue for his Deputy President Thabo Mbeki to deal with.
Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as President in 1999, was an HIV-denier, who believed that AIDS was concocted by European pharmaceutical companies to sell high-priced drugs to Africans. Mbeki's Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, became notorious for recommending that HIV patients adopt a regimen of traditional African remedies, like beets and garlic, rather than taking antiretrovirals.
Through the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which he founded soon after stepping down from the Presidency in 1999, Mandela campaigned for Mbeki's government to provide appropriate medications for HIV patients.
Meanwhile, AIDS activist Zackie Achmat, like Mandela a member of South Africa's ruling party, the ANC (African National Congress), also called on the ANC to formulate science-based HIV policies, and oust the Health Minister.
In a stinging rebuke to Mbeki, the South African cabinet passed a formal resolution in 2002 stating explicitly that AIDS was caused by HIV. In 2003 the cabinet voted that the government should provide antiretrovirals to HIV patients, and instructed Tshabalala-Msimang to carry out the order.
In 2005, Mandela revealed that his son Makgatho died of AIDS. When Makgatho's wife died less than two years earlier, the cause of death was listed as pneumonia, but family members later said the pneumonia was a complication of HIV infection.
In speaking about his son's death, Mandela called for open discussion of the disease.
'Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it,' he said, 'because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, 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.'
The current South African President, Jacob Zuma, who ousted Mbeki in an ANC power struggle in 2008, was publically tested for HIV in 2010, and urged all South Africans to be tested. Zuma, however, has been quoted making anti-Gay remarks, for which he subsequently apologized.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!