African National Congress Likely To Win South African Election Despite Discontent Over Government’s HIV/AIDS Policies
The African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, likely will win the country's national elections on Wednesday despite the "massive and growing toll" of HIV/AIDS on the country, "discontent" over the government's policies on antiretroviral drug provision and President Thabo Mbeki's past statements "question[ing]" the connection between HIV and AIDS, the Washington Post reports. Although opposition parties have "sought to exploit" voter concerns about HIV/AIDS, the issue ranks below others such as crime and unemployment in determining which party voters will choose to support, according to the Post. The government's recent rollout of antiretroviral drugs also has "blunted anger" over the issue, the Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 4/12). The national program aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. Gauteng province this month became the first of the country's nine provinces to begin dispensing drugs under the government's program. Western Cape started its own program earlier this year, and other provinces are expected to begin programs in the coming weeks. Officials expect 50,000 people to be on antiretroviral drugs by the end of the year and 1.4 million people to be on the drugs by 2009, at a total cost of $700 million (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/9). Opinion polls show that ANC could receive up to 70% of the popular vote and could gain control of all nine provincial governments, according to the Los Angeles Times (Foster, Los Angeles Times, 4/11). In addition, ANC possibly could gain the two-thirds majority in Parliament necessary to amend the constitution, according to the Post. Nathan Geffen, national manager for the South African HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said, "I don't think people are going to vote on the basis of HIV/AIDS issues," adding, "Most of our members are ANC members, and I think most of them will vote ANC" (Washington Post, 4/12).
Mbeki's leadership "remains in question" despite the recent rollout of antiretrovirals, the Financial Times reports (Reed, Financial Times, 4/12). Tony Leon, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said, "For 10 years, the ANC has had the power to create jobs, to fight crime and to treat HIV and AIDS," adding, "But in all that time, it failed to deliver. ... Across the nation, the ANC has broken its promises on AIDS" (AFP/Independent Online, 4/9). The Democratic Alliance has produced a pack of playing cards showing ANC candidates who have "betrayed their office as public representatives," according to a Democratic Alliance statement, SAPA/Independent Online reports. "Presented together, these cards represent an overwhelming moral corruption within the ranks of the ANC," Democratic Alliance campaign spokesperson Douglas Gibson said. Mbeki appears as the Ace of Hearts in the deck because he is "the leader of the AIDS denialists in the ANC," according to the statement. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is shown as the Queen of Hearts because she is a "firm believer in the toxicity of antiretroviral drugs, advocating instead a diet of crushed garlic, ginger and beetroot for those suffering from AIDS," according to the statement (SAPA/Independent Online, 4/12). Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats, has "seized" on the HIV/AIDS issue and recently took an HIV test in public, according to AFP/Independent Online. "The reason I am taking the test is because we are 10 years behind from the rest of the world in terms of fighting the AIDS pandemic and are still in denial," de Lille said. Mbeki spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said that de Lille's decision to take a public HIV test was "silly shenanigans meant for nothing other than attracting votes" (AFP/Independent Online, 4/9).
The Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University recently conducted a comprehensive, nationally representative survey of South Africans to examine their views about democracy and the challenges facing the country leading up to the election. The survey, titled "South Africans at Ten Years of Democracy," also sought to explore perceptions of how things have changed since the end of apartheid, as well as perceived challenges for the future, including issues such as unemployment, crime, race relations and HIV/AIDS. The survey, along with other related resources, is available online. Additional information on HIV/AIDS in South Africa is available online through kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.