South African National Assembly To Question President Mbeki About ‘Failure’ To Respond to Country’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic
The South African National Assembly is expected later this month to question President Thabo Mbeki about his "failure to lead a national response" to the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, South Africa's Business Day reports. Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Ryan Coetzee on Oct. 21 plans to ask Mbeki if "the government is in possession of any information that indicates that prevailing sexual practices and the attitudes of some men toward women do not account, in large part, for the spread of HIV in the country," according to Business Day. The question is an attempt to "get [Mbeki] to commit himself to the battle against the pandemic, particularly in light of" a recent survey indicating that an increasing proportion of women -- approximately 27.9% -- visiting government prenatal clinics test HIV-positive, Business Day reports (Hartley, Business Day, 10/11). Although South Africa's 10 years of democracy have been marked by political and social reform, advocates say that the government has been slow to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mbeki previously questioned the connection between HIV and AIDS and said that antiretroviral drug treatment is "poisonous." However, the government earlier this year launched a national antiretroviral drug treatment program that aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- by 2008. Officials expect 50,000 HIV-positive 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, 4/27). Coetzee also plans to ask Mbeki if the government believes that the "frequent occurrence" of rape in the country partly contributes to the spread of HIV, according to Business Day. Coetzee also is expected to ask Mbeki, who has recently withdrawn from public discourse about the epidemic, whether he will "now play a major role in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS," according to Business Day (Business Day, 10/11).
Mbeki 'Shifting' From Revolution to 'Nuts-and-Bolts' Politics
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined how Mbeki is "shifting his country from the sweeping politics of revolution ... to the nuts-and-bolts politics of economics and government delivery." Although Mbeki may have "damaged his international standing" with how he responded to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, his cabinet's decision to implement a national antiretroviral treatment program "may well have put the worst of the controversy behind him," according to the Journal. Consequently, Mbeki now is attempting to "tackle one of his country's core problems" -- the two "starkly disconnected populations" in South Africa's economy, the Journal reports. The first population makes up the highly skilled job market, which includes telecommunications, banking and the platinum and gold industries. The second -- not "really an economy" but a "sector of society" -- includes the unemployed, who were "shoved" by the apartheid-era government into rural areas and are therefore "virtually unemployable" in the skilled job market. Mbeki's plan involves attracting investment by lowering the cost of conducting business in the South African mainstream economy and launching a public-works program in the second economy that aims to transfer skills and provide temporary jobs to millions over the next five years (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 10/12).
Next Decade 'Critical,' Former President Says
The next decade will be "critical" for South Africa's economic development, former South African President F.W. de Klerk writes in an opinion piece published in South Africa's Star. Despite some "remarkable successes" over the past 10 years since the fall of apartheid, there are a "number of serious concerns for the second decade," including HIV/AIDS, which will kill more than five million people and result in approximately two million AIDS orphans during that time, de Klerk writes. Although poverty and inequality are linked to HIV/AIDS, South Africa has "become an even less equal society than it was 10 years ago," according to de Klerk. There is an "increasing cleavage" between the multiracial middle class and the labor "elite" and the growing class of unemployed, de Klerk writes, adding that almost half of South Africa's population -- mostly black -- lives below the poverty line. Therefore, the next decade is "destined to be dominated by black economic empowerment," according to de Klerk, who concludes that "South Africa needs real transformation that will substantially address the needs of the poorest -- rather than further enrich the emerging black elite and middle class" (de Klerk, Star, 10/11).