Esteemed President of the democratic Republic,
Honourable Members of the Constitutional Assembly,
Our distinguished domestic and foreign guests,
On an occasion such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the beginning.
So, let me begin.
I am an African.
I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.
My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.
The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.
At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito.
A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say - I am an African!
I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape - they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.
Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.
I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom.
My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.
I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas, who sees in the mind's eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk, death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins.
I am the child of Nongqause. I am he who made it possible to trade in the world markets in diamonds, in gold, in the same food for which my stomach yearns.
I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.
Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, I shall claim that - I am an African.
I have seen our country torn asunder as these, all of whom are my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible.
I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.
I know what if signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human.
I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.
I have experience of the situation in which race and colour is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.
I have seen the corruption of minds and souls in the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against humanity.
I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.
There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality - the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children, those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain.
Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people, are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.
And so, like pawns in the service of demented souls, they kill in furtherance of the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the innocent in the taxi wars.
They kill slowly or quickly in order to make profits from the illegal trade in narcotics. They are available for hire when husband wants to murder wife and wife, husband.
Among us prowl the products of our immoral and amoral past - killers who have no sense of the worth of human life, rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the disabled and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest for self-enrichment.
All this I know and know to be true because I am an African!
Because of that, I am also able to state this fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines.
I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression.
I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.
The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric.
Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines.
Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.
We are assembled here today to mark their victory in acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own definition of what it means to be African.
The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes and unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender of historical origins.
It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern.
It recognises the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that individual.
It seeks to create the situation in which all our people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny.
It aims to open the doors so that those who were disadvantaged can assume their place in society as equals with their fellow human beings without regard to colour, race, gender, age or geographic dispersal.
It provides the opportunity to enable each one and all to state their views, promote them, strive for their implementation in the process of governance without fear that a contrary view will be met with repression.
It creates a law-governed society which shall be inimical to arbitrary rule.
It enables the resolution of conflicts by peaceful means rather than resort to force.
It rejoices in the diversity of our people and creates the space for all of us voluntarily to define ourselves as one people.
As an African, this is an achievement of which I am proud, proud without reservation and proud without any feeling of conceit.
Our sense of elevation at this moment also derives from the fact that this magnificent product is the unique creation of African hands and African minds.
Bit it is also constitutes a tribute to our loss of vanity that we could, despite the temptation to treat ourselves as an exceptional fragment of humanity, draw on the accumulated experience and wisdom of all humankind, to define for ourselves what we want to be.
Together with the best in the world, we too are prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and short-sightedness.
But it seems to have happened that we looked at ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda - Glory must be sought after!
Today it feels good to be an African.
It feels good that I can stand here as a South African and as a foot soldier of a titanic African army, the African National Congress, to say to all the parties represented here, to the millions who made an input into the processes we are concluding, to our outstanding compatriots who have presided over the birth of our founding document, to the negotiators who pitted their wits one against the other, to the unseen stars who shone unseen as the management and administration of the Constitutional Assembly, the advisers, experts and publicists, to the mass communication media, to our friends across the globe - congratulations and well done!
I am an African.
I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa.
The pain of the violent conflict that the peoples of Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, Burundi and Algeria is a pain I also bear.
The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share.
The blight on our happiness that derives from this and from our drift to the periphery of the ordering of human affairs leaves us in a persistent shadow of despair.
This is a savage road to which nobody should be condemned.
This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now!
Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace!
However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper!
Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say - nothing can stop us now!
‘”¦ when historians assess the democratic credentials of Thabo Mbeki’s government in future, it is likely that their most critical attentions will focus on its responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic ”¦ What explains Mbeki’s apparent embrace of dissident ideology?’
Tom Lodge, politics professor, Wits University, Politics in South Africa (Cape Town: David Philip, 2002)
‘In 1998 Mbeki referred to the “escalating HIV/AIDS pandemic” as a “pressing crisis”. Therefore, what is not properly understood is why and how such a radical shift in his own views and from the policy position adopted by the ANC national health plan took place.’
Mark Heywood, AIDS Law Project director and TAC executive committee member, ‘The Price of Denial’, Development Update, February 2005
‘How does one understand a man who is among the finest minds of his generation, yet doggedly denies the scientific evidence over HIV/Aids?’
Martin Plaut, ‘No denial’, Times Literary Supplement, 22 August 2008
‘The HIV/AIDS issue is worthy of a book in itself.’
Brian Pottinger, The Mbeki Legacy (Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2008)
Part One: All commentators acknowledge former President Thabo Mbeki’s exceptional intellectual acuity;
Part Two: On AIDS, however, they all find Mbeki’s thinking incomprehensible – some saying it’s deranged, even dishonest;
Part Three: All contend that Mbeki’s political ‘legacy’ has been seriously damaged by his dissension from Western AIDS orthodoxy;
Part Four: None of Mbeki’s biographers or other political writers – Mark Gevisser included – have interrogated and elucidated the scientific basis of Mbeki’s rejection of the HIV-ARV-AIDS paradigm, and none have examined and disassembled the ideological core of the African AIDS construct;
Part Five: A positive appraisal of Mbeki’s intellectual and political engagement with AIDS: ‘Just say yes, Mr President’: Mbeki and AIDS.
All commentators acknowledge former President Thabo Mbeki’s exceptional intellectual acuity
Political commentators unanimously agree that former South African President Thabo Mbeki is a brilliant, widely-read intellectual, with exceptional radical analytic perspicuity. Writing in the London Guardian on 9 April 2004, Allister Sparks thought ‘Mbeki is an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the sharpest and brightest analysts I have ever met.’ Peter Bruce reckoned similarly in his ‘Editor’s Note’ in the Financial Mail on 17 November 2000: ‘Mbeki is arguably the most intelligent national leader this country has ever had’, adding in an editorial in Business Day on 14 August 2007 that arguing with him is hard, because his opinions are informed: ‘what’s difficult about tackling Mbeki is that he is so obviously an enlightened man. He reads, he is erudite, he’s good company.’ Interviewed in Fair Lady in November 2005, Mbeki’s mother Epainette mentioned that his erudition and enlightenment started with unsuitable books when he was a boy: He read books at an early age which we thought were not for his standard. And he was not talkative. He was reserved, even as a young person. And he had very few friends because, you know, his mind was above average. (She might have mentioned that having two communist parents helped a bit too.) That Mbeki reads up on things for himself before forming opinions, and that he doesn’t just rely on what he’s told by ignorant slobs in high positions posing as experts who are too lazy to do the reading he has, is apparent from his complaint in the Sunday Times on 6 February 2000:
‘What do you do if ... university people, professors and scientists ... haven’t read ... won’t read? What do you do?’ Mbeki underscored the point two years later in March 2002 at the start of the preface to his radical scientific and ideological critique and debunk of Robert Gallo’s HIV-AIDS hypothesis, Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics, discussed by the ANC NEC in March 2002: ‘This monograph discusses the vexed question of HIV/AIDS. It is based on the assumption that to understand this matter, it is necessary to study it.’ Also: ‘It does not accept the assertion that only scientists and medical doctors are capable of understanding this medical condition.’ Sean Johnson summed up in his foreword to Hadland and Rantao’s The Life and Times of Thabo Mbeki (infra): ‘No one doubts his great intellect and skill.’ Mbeki’s mother confirmed this in the Sunday Times on 23 December 2007: ‘What I’ve noticed throughout the years is that his intelligence is above average. As a result people are unable to reach up to him ”¦ and he won’t come down to them.’ In sum: writing in Business Day on 22 August 2007, Professor Steven Friedman thought that Mbeki wasn’t just South Africa’s smartest leader ever, but that he ‘may well be the world’s most intelligent head of government.’
On AIDS, however, all commentators find Mbeki’s thinking
incomprehensible – with some saying it’s deranged, even dishonest
South African, American and English liberal and liberal-left commentators, predominantly white, have universally found Mbeki impenetrably inscrutable on AIDS. In Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa (infra) Sparks wondered, ‘How has this highly intelligent man been drawn into this situation that is so damaging of himself and his country?’ Equally confounded, Nadine Gordimer noted in the London Sunday Times on 21 November 2004: ‘I just can’t understand his ”¦ wholly incomprehensible ”¦ attitude. Yet in many ways he is an excellent president. He is so intelligent and such a well-read man.’ In a Wolpe Trust lecture in Cape Town on 23 September 2008, Robert Schrire said he also found him intellectually opaque, but for contrary reasons: He always gives convoluted intellectual reasons that don’t make sense. Mbeki is not an intellectual. This is a good thing. I am scared of intellectuals as leaders. We need simple-minded people in government. ... One emotion he exhibits is a visceral hatred of the West. He likes being an Englishman but hates the West. Believe it or not, this person is a professor of politics at UCT. The Washington Post recorded on 6 July 2000 that Mbeki – described by friends and even critics as among the smartest and most capable leaders in the developing world – has become better known internationally for his skepticism about conventional AIDS treatments than for any other reason.A week later on the 14th, the newspaper’s online magazine Slate declared what it thought of this, claiming both in the title of the piece ‘Thabo Mbeki: Why has South Africa’s excellent president gone loco [mad]?’ and in the article itself that Mbeki’s ‘skepticism’ for ARV drugs evidenced mental perturbation: In the last few months, Thabo Mbeki has been introducing himself to the world as a loon ”¦ making a spectacle of himself. ”¦He portrays himself as an educated skeptic about AIDS. But his late night Web-trolling, credulity about what he read online, and $10 scientific phrases smack less of skepticism than obsession. The president of South Africa is acting like a nutter. It’s a shame that Mbeki has been diverted by this bizarre AIDS twaddle, because he is normally ational. ”¦ Mbeki’s AIDS paroxysm, in short, is uncharacteristic of his lifetime of reasonableness. Why is he fixated on questioning the Western consensus about AIDS? ”¦ Mbeki faces a health catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. ”¦ For 58 years, he has never succumbed to desperation or folly, no matter how dire the situation. If South Africa has become so troubled that even the unflappable Mbeki is coming unhinged, the world should worry. In an editorial on 15 September 2000 entitled ‘Just say yes, Mr President’, the Mail&Guardian pronounced that Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS revealed him to be a special sort of mental defective suffering a complex of disabling psychological problems: It is not too late for Mbeki to change the growing perception of him as an extremely intelligent man, but one whose intellect contains islands of irrationality that are impervious to reason, who has difficulty in conceding an error of judgement, and who prefers verbal play to the practical tasks at hand. Max du Preez insinuated that Mbeki’s incomprehensible position on AIDS evidences that he’s dishonest, claiming in the Cape Argus on 20 November 2003 that ‘not even the most skilled and devious spin-doctor in the world would be able to explain our president’s views and strategies on HIV/Aids.’ He eliminated any doubt as to his meaning in the Star on 23 August 2007, recording his opinion that Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS reflected that he wasn’t only dishonest, but schizophrenic as well: I have been concerned for a long time about the way in which Mbeki seems to be drifting from reality. ”¦ Some of the worrying patterns of behaviour include his continued duplicitous position on HIV and Aids. In fact he should be locked up, du Preez suggested in the Daily News on 15 May 2008: Mbeki started off with a great initiative to restore Africa’s pride and her place in the international community with the African Renaissance and Nepad. But in the end he did Africa more damage than most African heads of state with his bizarre notions, and criminal denialism, on HIV and Aids. An editorial in the Economist on 29 November 2007 deplored Mbeki’s ‘weird and destructive views on HIV/AIDS’. In the January-March 2008 issue of BBC Focus on Africa, Andrew Feinstein just couldn’t understand ‘Mbeki’s inexplicable Aids denialism’. Mark Gevisser mentioned in his biography Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (discussed infra) that Mbeki had briefed him with an updated copy of Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics, and that he’d confirmed it set out his views; big-time AIDS expert Hein Marais (who, like Jonny Steinberg, has this way of ejaculating lyrically at the thought of Africans riddled with AIDS) had suggested two years earlier that this ‘screed’ which ‘flamboyantly declaimed’ on the racist junk science of HIV-AIDS was sickening – disgorging the view in his own delirious ‘pamphlet’ published by the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Study of AIDS, Buckling: The impact of AIDS in South Africa 2005, that it was ‘a bilious tract’. Interviewed in the Sunday Independent on 23 December 2007, cartoonist Jonathan (‘Zapiro’) Shapiro’s comment on Mbeki’s move in owning Castro Hlongwane as a statement of his thinking was that of all the year’s political wonders it was ‘most off the scale on the lunatic meter’. Taking an equally dim view on his Mail&Guardian ‘ThoughtLeader’ blog on 15 February 2008, AIDS Law Project head of policy and research Jonathan Berger knocked it as ‘the truly crazy Castro Hlongwane missive’. Which is to say, to Marais’s, Berger’s and Shapiro’s minds, being right-thinking Europeans, Mbeki’s radical scientific and ideological deconstruction of HIV-AIDS in Castro Hlongwane evidences that he’s mentally sick; but naturally, since as Oscar Wilde once observed, ‘In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.’ In a lengthy, vituperative opinion piece in the Sunday Independent on 12 November 2007, Jerry Coovadia, ‘Professor of HIV-AIDS Research’ at Nelson R Mandela Medical School, UKZN, and his son Imraan, a novelist and English lecturer at UCT, concurred in this psychiatric diagnosis: Mbeki’s analysis and dismantling of HIV-AIDS in Castro Hlongwane as evidence of a ‘diminished mind’. It’s ‘breathtakingly irrational’, full of ‘sense and nonsense, insinuation and provocation, rationalization and misquotation’, they fulminated – ‘self-pity and displaced self-hatred’ too. And as for Mbeki’s matter of fact point that ‘HIV’ has never been isolated, this was ‘Mbeki’s lie’, they said. A review of Gevisser’s book in Time on 5 December 2007 claimed Mbeki’s ‘independent-minded stubbornness ”¦ his skepticism, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, that HIV is the principal cause of aids ”¦ can look like callousness when millions of lives are at stake’. His inability to use ‘the media effectively’ to explain his point of view ‘persuaded Mbeki there was a conspiracy against him, Gevisser writes, and encouraged him to fester in an “increasingly sullen and irascible isolation.”’
All commentators contend that Mbeki’s political ‘legacy’ has been seriously damaged by his dissension from Western AIDS orthodoxy
Commentators are also unanimous that Mbeki’s position on AIDS will forever stain what they call his ‘legacy’. Most recently, suggesting like du Preez has that Mbeki’s scepticism for the Western-proclaimed HIV / AIDS scare evidences a mentally disturbed detachment from the real world, multi-billionaire and Open Society Institute chairman George Soros answered Mail&Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee’s enquiry in an interview published on 19 February 2008, ‘As President Thabo Mbeki ends his term of office, what do you think will be his greatest legacy?’: I think he’s done many things right, but the two big spots on his legacy are the ways he dealt with HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe. He started out being very open and realistic, ready to deal with problems and recognising them, but in the course of time, his entourage has isolated him from reality and he became increasingly detached. Richard Calland and Sean Jacobs opined alike in ‘Thabo Mbeki: Politics and ideology’ included in their essay collection Thabo Mbeki’s World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President (infra): ‘Thabo Mbeki’s legacy is in danger; tragically, “the president with the inexplicably contrary views on HIV/AIDS” would be most apposite at this stage.’ Calland reiterated his assessment in Anatomy of South Africa: Who Holds the Power? (Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2006): ‘Mbeki’s legacy, for all his other immense achievements, will always be seriously blighted by his quixotic preoccupation with the linkage between HIV and AIDS.’ (He probably thinks that by using language like this he sounds clever.) In To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa (infra) Xolela Mangcu thought much the same – but going further in implying criminal indolence on Mbeki’s part for allowing ‘millions’ to die: Thabo Mbeki’s legacy will largely be defined by his intransigence on the greatest public health threat facing South Africa, HIV/AIDS. In order to understand the gravity and sheer irresponsibility of Mbeki’s apparent denialism, we need only look at the evolution of a potentially manageable disease into a pandemic that has claimed the lives of millions of South Africans. Business Day political editor Karima Brown passed the same verdict on 22 August 2006: ‘Whatever Mbeki and his government manage to achieve for South Africa’s future, nothing can remove the culpability of millions of preventable deaths that will forever stick to his name.’ Wits politics professor Tom Lodge summed up his criticism of ‘Mbeki’s reluctance to sanction large-scale provision of anti-retroviral medication to HIV/Aids patients and his personal association with dissident Aids denialists’ in the title of an article he wrote for the Helen Suzman Foundation magazine Focus in March 2007: ‘Mbeki leaves SA a mixed legacy’. UCT economics professor Nicoli Nattrass explained in her Centre for Social Science Research working paper of 19 March 2006, ‘AIDS, Science and Governance: The Battle Over Antiretroviral Therapy in Post-Apartheid South Africa’, that the basic problem with Mbeki’s openminded approach to AIDS is that he’s thick and stubborn, like a pig: The most pernicious legacy of President Mbeki’s dissident stance on AIDS has been the erosion of the authority of science and of scientific regulation of medicine in South Africa. ”¦ his insistence that all avenues should be explored [was] stupidly pig-headed. In his column in the Guardian on 1 December 2007, Ben Goldacre revealed that he loathes and despises the wogs no less: ‘South Africa is ”¦ headed ”¦ by President Thabo Mbeki, a man who remains an HIV denialist ”¦ Our greatest impediment is wishful, brutal stupidity.’ Very obviously dumping his hysterical post-colonial angst, author and columnist Jonny Steinberg claimed in Business Day on 6 November 2006 that Mbeki is a deeply psychologically troubled person, sickening others with his mental disease and Lysenkoism, and that this had harmed his ‘legacy’: Mbeki’s talk about AIDS was a mixture of ersatz science and sociology ”¦ [His] ideas [about] AIDS and antiretroviral treatment [have] in common [a] frenzied anxiety about an erosion of authority – perhaps even of national sovereignty. ”¦ What Mbeki coaxed to the surface of SA’s political culture was an anxious man’s nationalism and a paranoid’s nativism – both of which instinctively lash out at the arrival of technology and ideas from abroad. ”¦ Mbeki ”¦ treated the AIDS epidemic as a pernicious attack on our sovereignty launched from abroad ”¦ he has made his own sense of besiegement a nation’s sense of besiegement. In diffuse and unhappy ways, he has triggered a flurry of trench digging across large strata of SA. It is a troubling legacy to leave behind. Similarly, Vicki Robinson and Rapule Tabane wrote together in the Mail&Guardian on 2 February 2007: How to squander a legacy ”¦ Deny Aids. ”¦ Mbeki’s ”¦ HIV/Aids quackery at the turn of the century ”¦ fatally refuted the scientific link between HIV and Aids. ”¦ In 2001, President Thabo Mbeki began to question the links between HIV and Aids. He established a presidential advisory panel comprised of the world’s most notorious dissident scientists. South African AIDS consultant Virginia van der Vliet, who also thinks she’s clever, ascribed Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS to blind, ignorant, unrealistic ‘ideological fetishism’ in her article ‘The Poverty Trap’ in AIDSAlert on 14 March 2007: [In promoting Lysenko’s] doctrine of environmentally (as against genetically) acquired inheritance ”¦ Stalin too imagined that biology was susceptible to his own ideological fetishism. ”¦ President Mbeki’s forays into biological science on HIV/AIDS, in which he is as ignorant as Stalin in plant genetics, offer a parallel deriving from an imposed overriding ideological imperative. The New York Times picked up and recycled many of these themes in an editorial on 14 August 2007, namely that Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS is disordered; the science he asserts is trash; he is responsible for the deaths of ‘thousands’ of people; and unless he changed his mind on AIDS he’d wreck his ‘legacy’: What is it about South Africa’s devastating AIDS epidemic that President Thabo Mbeki just doesn’t want to understand? Mr. Mbeki has catastrophically failed to face up to his country’s greatest challenge. For years, he associated himself with crackpot theories that disputed the demonstrable fact that AIDS was transmitted by a treatable virus. ”¦ he suggested that antiretroviral drugs were toxic, and he encouraged useless herbal folk remedies instead. As a result, thousands of South Africans have needlessly sickened and died. ”¦ [South Africa] lacks ”¦ a president who cares enough about his people’s suffering to provide serious leadership. Only two more years remain in Mr. Mbeki’s presidential term. Unless he finally starts listening to sensible advice on AIDS, he will leave a tragic legacy of junk science and unnecessary death. According to Gavin Evans, writing in the Sunday Times online on 22 January 2008, ‘Mbeki will forever be associated with his idiocy over Aids [in] adopting an absurd, flat-earth position that denied the link between sex, HIV and Aids.’ Even generally sympathetic Mbeki biographer Mark Gevisser shares the general liberal consensus in deploring Mbeki’s dissension on AIDS. Paraphrasing the judgement he passed in his book, he repeated the standard thoughtless white liberal view in an interview in the Sunday Times on 18 November 2007: ‘I think the deepest scratch against his legacy will be the way he dealt with HIV and Aids.’ And again on 4 August 2008, in podcast audio interview by Sunday Times books editor Tymon Smith: ‘AIDS and Zimbabwe will remain, into perpetuity, sort of black marks against his name.’ In The Mbeki Legacy (Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2008), Brian Pottinger agreed that ‘tragically his legacy will probably not be celebrated for [his political achievements], but will be remembered for ”¦ his ambiguity on HIV/AIDS’. Reviewing the updated, abridged American edition of Gevisser’s book A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream in the New York Review of Books on 9 April 2009, former New York Times editor Joseph Lelyveld fixed on AIDS in support of his verdict announced in the title of his piece, ‘How Mbeki Failed’: Freed from the scourge of apartheid, a liberated South Africa wasted the better part of a decade before starting to marshal its considerable resources to confront the scourge of AIDS (by which time nearly 30 percent of pregnant South African women were estimated to be HIV-positive). Thabo Mbeki was the central reason for that catastrophic misjudgment. In his suspicious mind [‘the brooding recluse who sat up late into the night at his computer in presidential mansions in Cape Town and Pretoria, exploring the speculations of AIDS deniers’] the notion that HIV and AIDS were causally related was only a ‘thesis’ propounded by multinational drug companies bent on opening new markets in Africa.
None of Mbeki’s biographers or other political writers – Gevisser
included – have interrogated and elucidated the scientific basis of
Mbeki’s rejection of the HIV-ARV-AIDS paradigm, and none have
examined and deconstructed the ideological core of the African AIDS
1. Hadland and Ranteo’s The Life and Times of Thabo Mbeki (Zebra Press,
1999) was published in April 1999, six months before Mbeki began changing his mind about AIDS. In this context, therefore, the book is useful only to the extent that it shows that at the time it was published, Mbeki was still a resolutely convinced believer in ‘this scourge ”¦ of HIV/AIDS’, and that he hadn’t yet begun questioning Western medical wisdom that ‘Africa accounts for two-thirds of the world’s infected’ by a sexually transmitted virus, as he put it in his African Renaissance speech in Tokyo on 9 April 1998, and that patented ARV drugs manufactured and sold by Western pharmaceutical corporations were essential for saving African lives. He still believed this stuff and was pumping it like Ray McCauley doing his Sunday business.
2. Lucky Mathebe’s Bound by Tradition: The World of Thabo Mbeki (UNISA Press, 2001) plausibly asserted Mbeki’s African ‘pragmatism’ over characteristically Western ‘a priori or ideological positions’ to account for his open questioning of American orthodox thinking about AIDS, but didn’t enter into the reasons for Mbeki’s radical shift from it at the end of 1999. In fact, Mathebe doubted that Mbeki ‘has an abiding conviction that there is no such epidemic as Aids or a virus called HIV’. But Mbeki’s radical AIDS dissident manifesto Castro Hlongwane released in March 2002, a few months after Mathebe’s book was published, disconfirmed Mathebe’s speculations and demonstrated that Mbeki indeed rejects the HIV-AIDS paradigm completely. Mbeki talks of the ‘so-called pandemic’, and, crucially, pointedly records in his monograph that ‘HIV’ has never been isolated by the standards of classical virology: Strange as it may seem, given what our friends tell us about the Virus everyday [Mbeki’s sarcastic boldface and upper case emphasis], nobody has seen it, including our friends. Nobody knows what it looks like. Nobody knows how it behaves. Everybody acts on the basis of a series of hypotheses about the Virus, which are presumed to be facts, supposedly authenticated by ‘clinical evidence’. Those who have imbibed the faith that millions among us are infected by a deadly HI Virus, will disbelieve the assertion that the work of isolating our unique HI Virus has not been done. The omnipotent apparatus will scream loudly that the telling of this truth constitutes the very heart of the criminal non-conformity that must be denounced and repressed by all means and at all costs. Rather than perpetuate our self-repression, it is time that we demanded that the necessary scientific work be done to isolate and analyse the Virus that is said to be so deadly. In short, Mbeki indeed ‘has an abiding conviction that there is no such epidemic as Aids or a virus called HIV’. Or to be more precise, though he doesn’t doubt the broken health of the poor and drug-poisoned (doctors call it ‘acquired immune deficiency’ and ‘immune reconstitution syndrome’), Mbeki no longer believes in any ‘epidemic’ of ‘HIV-AIDS’ slaughtering Africans or about to slaughter them next year, or maybe the year after that, like he used to.
3. Notwithstanding the promise contained in the title of their essay collection, Thabo Mbeki’s World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President (University of Natal Press/Zed Books, 2002), Richard Calland and Sean Jacobs and three other authors repeatedly criticized Mbeki on AIDS, but without any endeavour to explicate his thinking or motivation – other than to ascribe it to disingenuous ‘obfuscation’ (per Calland and Jacobs) and ‘excuses’ (per Patrick Bond), his ‘belligerent stance, particularly on the issue of HIV/AIDS’ (per Farouk Chotia and Jacobs), and ‘his very stubbornness’, giving rise to ‘his stubborn attempt to contradict progressive consensus on the question of the link between HIV and AIDS’ (per John Saul). In other words, in the view of these extremely progressive writers, in his engagement with AIDS not only is Mbeki dishonest, cantankerous and asinine, he’s politically reactionary too. Concerning what Calland and Jacobs rightly identified as the hottest issue of Mbeki’s Presidency, these crass insults, consistent with basic white racist stereotypes of Africans, were put up in place of an attempt to analyse the political, ideological and factual basis of Mbeki’s dissent – which thinking Calland and Jacobs pronounce repugnant to good people everywhere: ‘The HIV/AIDS crisis has emerged as the issue on which Mbeki has revealed himself in ways that appal not just foreigners but many South Africans.’ This is to say, in questioning orthodox thinking about AIDS, Mbeki showed something about himself, not hitherto seen, which the extremely progressive authors found disgusting, just as others did.
4. Allister Sparks’s AIDS chapter in Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa (Jonathan Ball, 2003) delivered every cliché, every conventional newspaper story, every thrilling apocalyptic image and prediction that its title ‘An African Holocaust’ anticipated, even a little treatise on how ‘HIV sneaks in’, attacking ‘your defenders’ and everything, which he got from a professor at Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina where AZT manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and other drug corporations just happen to have their R&D HQs. Sparks’s apologia for the AIDS industry has the quality of a school homework project – its general tone and lack of critical engagement naive to the point of childish. Instead of reviewing the dissident arguments, he mocked the AIDS dissidents instead (I’m ‘obsessive’, although also ‘an able lawyer who argues his case with persuasive force’). Sparks shed no light on why Mbeki thinks what he does about AIDS, save to mention that Mbeki found the leading dissident websites – which is to imply, correctly, that he read scientific critiques of the HIV theory of AIDS published in medical and scientific journals and archived on the internet. He stated: Mbeki himself confirmed that the first person to draw his attention to these dissident websites was a lawyer and part-time jazz musician named Anthony Brink, then practising in the provincial city of Pietermaritzburg. To be precise, it was my work Debating AZT that alerted him to the trouble with AZT, but anyway, ‘“That was the first time I became aware of this dissident viewpoint,” Mbeki told me.’ (Mark Gevisser confirms in Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2007):‘“That,’ Mbeki told me, ‘is what sparked it off ”¦”’) ‘Conspiracy theories lie at the heart of the dissidents’ cause,’ Sparks declaimed, thereby batting to touch with this mindless slur the entire corpus of hard scientific literature dealing with the trouble with the HIV theory of AIDS and saving himself the effort of investigating it – conveniently for him, since he finds ‘the dissidents’ arguments ”¦ difficult to refute’. Apart from implying that Mbeki is a conspiracy nut, Sparks edified his readers with two psychological explanations for Mbeki’s crossing to the dissidents, speculating that the dissidents’ accusations that the drug companies were manipulating the research funding and ripping off the poor resonated with Mbeki. ”¦ But there is more to Mbeki’s attitude towards AIDS than all of this. Somehow in this complex man there seems to be a deep-seated anger that the disease and those who point to its catastrophic scale in Africa are maligning black people, that the whole thing amounts to a calumny against African culture and sexual behaviour; that the disease is being used to smear black people. ”¦ Whatever the reasons for Mbeki’s involvement with the AIDS dissidents and his strange reactions to the warnings of the awful realities of the disease, it would be difficult to exaggerate the damage he has done to his own image and that of his government, both at home and abroad. Interviewed by Chris Barron for the Sunday Times on 15 June 2003, Sparks revealed what he really thought about it all: ‘on AIDS ”¦ the present government ”¦ really has behaved very badly, and President Mbeki is personally to blame’. With this sort of disapproving attitude towards Mbeki’s independent investigation of the scientific fundamentals of the HIV theory of AIDS, it’s small surprise that Sparks never bothered finding out and then reporting what Mbeki’s enquiry had turned up.
5. In Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC (Zebra Press, 2005) William Mervin Gumede suggested that In dealing with AIDS, Mbeki may have wandered off on a deadly diversion that has helped place an entire nation in denial and needlessly taken the lives of millions of its citizens. Which is to say Mbeki is criminally to blame for the deaths of ‘millions’ of people. Discounting Mbeki’s rejection of ARVs on the grounds of their dangerous toxicity and inefficacy, Gumede went on to imply that his given reasons were false, a red herring to distract from the true one, namely that he was actually indifferent to the sick African poor dying off untreated, because being Africans, unlike whites, they are especially susceptible to infecting each other with HIV and getting AIDS, and in any event, being useless economically, poor Africans aren’t worth the money to treat: Underlying the [government’s reluctance to provide antiretroviral drugs] was an unspoken belief among Mbeki’s inner circle that spending money on ARVs would be futile, since the real problem lay with the reasons for South Africa’s masses being particularly vulnerable to AIDS. At its most cynical, the view suggests that the exchequer was to be spared the cost of subsidising treatment for the poor and unemployed, who were a drain on resources rather than contributors to the state coffers. That writing of this quality should pass for serious analysis of Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS goes a long way to accounting for why Gumede is a darling of South Africa’s white liberal establishment.
6. Another feted servant of the same constituency, Xolela Mangcu, claimed in To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa (UKZN Press, 2008) that: Thabo Mbeki had shown that under his stewardship racial nationalism would trump even the most deadly public health issue of his time. ”¦ What the whole HIV/AIDS saga reveals is that Mbeki lost his sense of judgment because of his personal hubris. ”¦ There has been much speculation about why a man who prides himself in rationality should be so irrational in such a critical issue for his nation. In other words, according to Mangcu, on AIDS Mbeki just went completely kaffir; and because of his overweening vanity he’s unable to think straight like normal, sensible people who think as whites do. And who write like them, for them.
7. As a statement of Mbeki’s thinking on AIDS, Ronald Suresh Roberts’s Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki (STE Publishers, June
2007) is a crude and worthless fraud. To avoid the job of examining and explaining the reasons for the radical shift in Mbeki’s view of AIDS at the end of the nineties, Roberts represented Mbeki to be a conventional subscriber to orthodox thinking about AIDS, just as Roberts himself is, and contended that he’s simply been misunderstood. But in Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (infra) published five months later, Mark Gevisser recorded that Mbeki himself moved to repudiate Roberts’s basic opening lie that ‘Thabo Mbeki is not now, nor has he ever been, an AIDS dissident’, by telephoning him late one Saturday night in June, the month Fit to Govern came out; asking him whether he’d read Castro Hlongwane; explicitly confirming that it represented his thinking on AIDS; and having his Presidential driver hand-deliver an updated, expanded version of the work the following day. Without mentioning Fit to Govern by name (he thought so poorly of the book that he didn’t mention it in his bibliography), Gevisser refuted Roberts’s false claim by sardonically echoing his language in contrary terms: ‘There is no question as to the message Thabo Mbeki was delivering to me along with this document: he was, as he had been since 1999, an AIDS dissident.’ In a talk at the Marais Road Synagogue Centre in Cape Town on May 2008, Gevisser reported that Mbeki wrote to him after his biography was published to confirm that he was right in describing him as an AIDS dissident (adding that if he’d just look at the evidence, he’d be one too). Mail&Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee summed up in her ‘ThoughtLeader’ blog on 15 November: Roberts’s book denies that Mbeki was ever a dissident ”¦ Well, that lie has been blown out of the water by the better biography, Mark Gevisser’s A [sic] Dream Deferred. In it, Mbeki himself confirms that he is still a dissident. On reading my critical analysis, Lying and Thieving: The fraudulent scholarship of Ronald Suresh Roberts in ‘Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki’ with reference to chapters 8 and 9 on AIDS: ‘A clash of fundamentalisms 1: medical politics’ and ‘A clash of fundamentalisms 2: racial politics’ (Open Books, November 2007; expanded edition, January 2008), STE Publishers cancelled* the second impression of Roberts’s bestselling book then about to go to press, and its editor Dr James Sanders judged it ‘the most serious case of literary fraud and plagiarism in
South African literary history’. Having been refuted by Mbeki himself, Roberts’s manifestly false claim that Mbeki isn’t a dissident on AIDS doesn’t warrant serious consideration.
8. Mark Gevisser’s Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred