Opposition Parties Criticize South African President Thabo Mbeki For ‘Neglecting’ AIDS in State of the Nation Address
South African opposition party leaders, speaking Monday during a debate on President Thabo Mbeki's State of the Nation address, which was delivered Friday, criticized the president for "neglecting" AIDS in his speech, Agence France-Presse reports. The government has come under "increasing pressure" from opposition groups and AIDS organizations to agree on a national treatment program, according to Agence France-Presse. Tony Leon, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said that the government's management of the epidemic was a "tragedy," adding, "We are watching one of the most extraordinary calamities in human history: the wiping out of millions of people, in peace time, by a known cause that has a known treatment." Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, added, "Everyday, I cannot think of anything but HIV/AIDS, and my conscience is torn to pieces because I know that we are not doing enough to deal with the issue. Our people are dying, not by the hundreds or the thousands, but by the tens of thousands." Nearly five million South Africans are HIV-positive, and the country has about 660,000 AIDS orphans (Agence France-Presse, 2/17). Patricia de Lille, a member of parliament for the Pan Africanist Congress, said that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country is "too serious" to be addressed by the South African National AIDS Council, which "lacks leadership and is packed with dissidents," SAPA/SABCnews.com reports. She asked whether Mbeki was aware that SANAC's technical committees had not met for a year. "Where ... are the hands and feet of SANAC to do the work while its leadership is slumbering?" she asked (SAPA/SABCnews.com, 2/18).
COSATU, TAC Accuse Government of Holding Up AIDS Treatment Deal
In related news, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Treatment Action Campaign are accusing the government of holding up the signing of an agreement on the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in the country, Xinhua News Agency reports. However, Mbeki on Sunday denied that the government was "backtracking" on an agreement on HIV/AIDS treatment that it reached last year with labor and business groups. "Discussions are going on about this," Mbeki said in an interview with SABC television, adding, "There is no agreement that the government is not signing" (Xinhua News Agency, 2/16). On Monday, COSATU said that a framework agreement drafted by a task team representing the government, labor and business was sent back on Nov. 29, 2002, to the principals of negotiators for their signatures. In "numerous" interviews last year, senior government officials said that they still needed to study the document and would not be ready to sign the agreement until this month, according to the South African Press Association. "In light of this, it is therefore strange to notice that the government now disputes the very existence of this ... agreement, and instead chooses to call it a COSATU/TAC proposal," a COSATU statement said (South African Press Association, 2/17). Mbeki said, "There is a continuing process of discussion about this. Where the idea came from that there is an agreement ready to be signed, I don't know" (South African Press Association, 2/16). According to Xinhua News Agency, SABC television reported that Mbeki said that the government could improve the way it communicates its position on HIV/AIDS treatment (Xinhua News Agency, 2/16).