South African President Mbeki Reappoints Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang; TAC Expresses ‘Disappointment’
South African President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday reappointed Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang "despite strong opposition" from some HIV/AIDS advocates because the health minister's "name has become synonymous with the government's halting response to AIDS," the Washington Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 4/29). Mbeki on Tuesday was sworn in for his second term as president of South Africa, where approximately 5.3 million HIV-positive people live, the highest number of cases in any country in the world. There had been speculation that Tshabalala-Msimang could be replaced because of disappointment among African National Congress members about how she has addressed the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the past, Tshabalala-Msimang has said that antiretroviral drugs are "poison" and that a combination of garlic, onions, olive oil and African potatoes would strengthen the immune systems of people living with HIV/AIDS. Her statements have attracted criticism even from within the government and have raised doubt about how much Mbeki is behind the country's antiretroviral program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/27).
South African treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign said in a statement that Tshabalala-Msimang's reappointment was a "disappointment for many of us," adding, "Our relationship with the health ministry has been fraught with tension and confrontation." However, the statement said, "This is a chapter in our history that we wish to put behind us." The group also said it welcomed the appointment of former Deputy Minister of Defense Nizizwe Madlala-Routledge to the position of deputy health minister, South Africa's Cape Times reports (Smetherham, Cape Times, 4/29). Democratic Alliance party leader Tony Leon said that Tshabalala-Msimang's reappointment is "a slap in the face to the approximately seven million HIV/AIDS sufferers in South Africa and indicates that government is stubbornly persisting with its failed policies in the health sector" (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 4/29). Patricia de Lille, leader of the Independent Democrats, said her party was "immensely disappointed" with the reappointment of Tshabalala-Msimang. De Lille added that the party was "hoping that she would be deployed to some garden service as a specialist adviser in herbs and vegetables" (Cape Times, 4/29). Tshabalala-Msimang spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said, "The past five years have been challenging. However, [the health minister] and the department have been able, within the limited resources, to lay the foundation for the delivery of services" (Washington Post, 4/29). Tshabalala-Msimang said she sees her reappointment as a "sign of Mbeki's confidence" in her efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to Agence France-Presse. She added, "I think it's a statement by our president to continue what I am doing" (Agence France-Presse, 4/29).