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Wed Dec 07 16:22:39 SAST 2016

Mbeki legacy polish ruined by more HIV/Aids twaddle

The Times Editorial | 2016-03-08 00:47:55.0

I never said HIV does not cause Aids," former president Thabo Mbeki announced yesterday.

"This false accusation was made by people who benefited from trumpeting the slogan 'HIV causes Aids' as though this was a religious edict. What I said is that 'a virus cannot cause a syndrome'."

The nation was fleetingly transported back to 2002 yesterday as Mbeki sought to defend his role in the shameful debacle that deprived hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive people of potentially life-saving treatment.

In his weekly letter reprising his legacy, an unrepentant Mbeki re-emphasised the importance of good nutrition in fighting HIV, questioned the efficacy of antiretrovirals and pointed out how US pharmaceutical companies had profited from the sale of the drugs.

He did at least resist the temptation of channelling his appalling former health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who infamously championed beetroot, African potato, lemons, garlic and olive oil for the treatment of Aids.

To his credit, our current health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, who leads the rollout of the of the biggest ARV programme in the world, refused to engage Mbeki directly, instead urging patients to continue taking their antiretrovirals.

In some ways Mbeki was an excellent president - hands on, focused and respected internationally.

The possibility of a downgrade of South Africa's sovereign credit rating under his watch would have been unthinkable.

But his Aids denialism is an undeniable blight on his legacy.

People were dying while he pontificated about syndromes with multiple causes and hinted at dark conspiracies in the corridors of Big Pharma.

Researchers at Harvard found that more than 330000 South Africans might have lost their lives as a result of the policies of his administration, which, lest we forget, had to be taken to court and made to do the right thing.

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