South African Government Does Not Automatically Ban HIV-Positive People From National Defence Force, Spokesperson Says
The South African government does not automatically exclude individuals from the South African National Defence Force solely because they are HIV-positive, government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe said on Wednesday, SAPA/News24.com reports (SAPA/News24.com, 10/22). South African Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota earlier this month said that "anybody with the condition of HIV cannot be recruited into the defense force. There's no point. You can't put ill people into positions in the army. It's not useful" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/16). Since then, Lekota's statements have been "widely criticized," and some attorneys have called the government's stated stance on SANDF recruits unconstitutional, SAPA/News24.com reports (SAPA/News24.com, 10/22). The South African AIDS advocacy group AIDS Law Project last week announced plans to sue the government over the policy (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/16). However, Netshitenzhe said that Lekota's words may have been distorted. He said the government's policy for SANDF is to evaluate recruits on the basis of several criteria including height, weight, vision, hearing and whether the person has diseases such as hepatitis or HIV. Netshitenzhe said, "On the basis of the overall assessment of the individual, and treating each case on its merits, they would then decide whether a person is fit to join the military section of the SANDF." In addition, Netshitenzhe said that SANDF members who test positive for HIV are not removed from service but are offered counseling and treatment, according to SAPA/News24.com (SAPA/News24.com, 10/22).
The South African Defence Ministry on Thursday reiterated Lekota's earlier statements that SANDF would not recruit HIV-positive individuals, but it also denied that it was contradicting the Cabinet's statements on Wednesday, SAPA/News24.com reports. Ministry spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said that the Ministry and the Cabinet were actually "talking with one voice," clarifying that HIV status is considered not as an "isolated ... criterion for recruitment," but as part of an overall health assessment, according to SAPA/News24.com. The ALP on Thursday said that it "welcomed" the Cabinet's clarified statement but added that the group remains "extremely concerned to note that despite this pronouncement, the SANDF has excluded and continues to exclude job applicants with HIV from employment in the SANDF." The group pointed to four examples in which SANDF refused employment for individuals who tested positive for HIV, SAPA/News24.com reports. ALP said in a statement that it hopes "the statement by the Cabinet will clarify the confusion that appears to exist between the Cabinet and the SANDF," adding that the SANDF's policies should be "immediately ... brought into line" with the Cabinet's position, according to SAPA/News24.com (SAPA/News24.com, 10/23).