Letter to the Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General re South Africa and HIV/AIDS by UDM Caucus Liaison Officer (24/06/2001)

Mr Kofi Annan
Secretary General
United Nations

SOUTH AFRICA: HIV/AIDS

In the light of the United Nations General Assembly special session on AIDS this week and the fact that Mr Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, will not be attending, it is vital that the session, after the opening addresses on Monday, place the matter of South Africa on the agenda and discuss it.

It has been reported that $3,2-billion will be needed by UN General Assembly next year, $4,7-billion in 2003 and $6,8-billion in 2004 to combat the disease. It has also been reported that Sub-Saharan Africa alone will account for about half of the estimated amount needed. It is further estimated by some analysts that a global campaign would need between $9-billion and $10-billion a year for at least 10 years to reverse the epidemic.

This would not take into account the fact that the epidemic would severely impact on the viability of countries such as South Africa, as has correctly been reported in The New York Times last week.

Pres Mbeki will be in Washington this week on a state visit, but will not be attending the UN General Assembly meeting, like other African heads of state. According to media reports from Washington, Americans are shocked that Pres Mbeki wil not be attending. Newspaper articles also criticized the South African government's policy not to provide anti-retroviral drugs to HIV/AIDS infected people. It is therefore of the utmost importance that you have the correct picture of the situation in South Africa. South Africa as a leader in Africa can play a vital role in successfully addressing the epidemic in Africa and it's view on the matter is thus crucial.

Last week World Bank Director, Dr Mamphela Ramphela said that South Africa needs clear, visible leadership on HIV/AIDS at the "highest" political level. She posed the following questions: "Are we implementing the strategy? And if not, why not?" It is well known that the "highest" political leader in South Africa, Pres Mbeki, has an alternative view on the matter. In fact, when he was asked about it during a live multi-media interview on Friday, 22 June, he indicated that the government's programme is not being influenced by his own view on the matter - a clear indication that he holds another view.

In explaining the lack of implementation of a government programme to provide pregnant mothers with anti-retroviral drugs, Mr Mbeki indicated that rural women would for instance need training and assistance should they receive the drug, as breast feeding is not possible in such a case. Rural women do not always have access to alternative food and clean water.

The UDM, being a political party with majority support amongst black voters, also from the rural areas, does not understand this logic. This kind of argument presupposes that only rural women are victims of the epidemic. The Government has identified 18 sites where pregnant HIV mothers can receive the drug, but has failed to get it off the ground. In the Western Cape province, which is not governed by the ANC, a successful programme has been implemented in Kayelitsha, a very big suburb of Cape Town. The UDM reacted strongly 6 June 2001 when the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabala-Msimang dared to criticise this programme in the Western Cape.

Research and statistics published a few days ago in a Kaiser Foundation-funded LoveLife report suggest an HIV infection rate among pregnant women of 24,5%, where it was only 2% 10 years ago. The position of the South African government is therefore mind-boggling to the UDM. 

The UDM supports ongoing research on and development of counselling services and the setting of standards for the envisaged programmes, but it is simply not acceptable to expect that unborn babies should be sacrificed while political point scoring and bickering are taking place and dissident views impact on priorities. The UDM's view is indeed that prevention should remain government's priority - providing drugs to pregnant mothers is after all prevention.

The UDM cannot agree with attitudes that confuse facts and delaying strategies when we are supposed to save our people from the worst pandemic in human history. We have no choice but to consider all options. These include rejecting strange utterances, views and attitudes of political leadership at the highest levels as possibly ignorant of human rights. The UDM is awaiting legal advice and would act in the very near future based on this advice.

The UDM requests UN General Assembly to do the same. Discussions at your level, involving the time, effort and resources of nations from across the world would be a wasted exercise if you do not get exact clarity on the views of South Africa. South Africa's view will impact in Africa. It is sending out a message firstly and secondly it will impact on successfully implementing programmes in Africa. In case of this message being confusing and it's actions retarding progress in addressing the pandemic in Africa, South Africa may be accused of violating international human rights as well.

As Dr Mamphela said - we need visible political leadership at the highest level. The UDM will vigorously guard that this political leadership does not violate human rights. In case it does, we will have no choice but to take the necessary steps at national level, in which case the South African Human Rights Commission comes to mind. At international level, we request that you, the UN General Assembly and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights carefully look into the matter. In this regard we refer specifically to articles 3, 8 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. Further correspondence from the UDM may follow. 

Thirty years ago the world united against the gross abuse of human rights in South Africa. It would be a crime against humanity and history if it is allowed that HIV/AIDS destroys all that we achieved.

PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS LIAISON OFFICER

CC. Me Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
UNAIDS
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