South African President Verbally Attacks White People Who Say AIDS Linked to Black Africans’ Race, Alleged Risky Behavior
South African President Thabo Mbeki has created a "race row" by verbally attacking white people who link HIV/AIDS to the alleged "promiscuous and predatory behavior" of black Africans, London's Guardian reports (Carroll, Guardian, 10/26). While answering questions at the National Assembly last week, Mbeki -- to avoid being "ambushed" by a question on HIV/AIDS -- "lashed out" at Member of Parliament Ryan Coetzee, the opposition party Democratic Alliance health spokesperson, for allegedly holding racist stereotypes of black people, according to Business Day (Business Day, 10/27). When asked about his silence on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Mbeki said that the real issue was prejudice, the Guardian reports. "I will not keep quiet while others whose minds have been corrupted by the disease of racism accuse us, the black people of South Africa, Africa and the world, as being, by virtue of our Africanness and skin color, lazy, liars, foul-smelling, diseased, corrupt, violent, amoral, sexually depraved, animalistic, savage and rapist," Mbeki said. Mbeki -- in language that "disconcerted some of his own supporters" -- accused some white people of seeing blacks as "rampant sexual beasts, unable to control our urges, unable to keep our legs crossed, unable to keep it in our pants," the Guardian reports. The Democratic Alliance said that the remarks were a "disgrace" and the accusations of racism were "false," according to the Guardian (Guardian, 10/27).
Coetzee -- who hoped to engage Mbeki in a public debate on HIV/AIDS -- during the questioning asked the president whether rape was pervasive in South Africa and if it could account for the spread of HIV. Mbeki then launched into his criticism of views that black men are "rapists or over-sexed," South Africa's Daily News reports. Coetzee accused the president of "scorning an opportunity to redeem himself and his government" about its "failure of leadership" in the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the Daily News. Coetzee "also questioned whether Mbeki was the right person to lead the country," the Daily News reports (Quintal, Daily News, 10/22). Mbeki said he would not discuss AIDS but would stick to the "central issue" of bigotry, which continues to thrive a decade after apartheid, according to the Guardian. "Millions of Africans in our country, in Africa and the world did not fight against apartheid racism and white domination to create space for them to continue to be subjected to dehumanizing, demeaning and insulting racism," Mbeki said (Guardian, 10/26).
Continuing Debate Online
In his weekly letter published on the African National Congress Web site, Mbeki published a reply to Coetzee following the parliamentary debate saying he hopes that Coetzee will find "the intellect, the courage and the humanity to hear and understand what ... millions of people in our country and elsewhere on our globe are saying about the hurt, anger and aspirations of those who know the meaning of race oppression," according to Business Day. Coetzee on Monday released an open letter to Mbeki saying that the president was refusing to answer a "legitimate" parliamentary question and is "unable to face the facts" about the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to Business Day. "Clearly, you cannot accept that HIV causes AIDS and that, overwhelmingly, HIV is spread through sexual intercourse, because you fear that if you do so, you will be conceding the veracity of a supposedly white-held stereotype of black people," Coetzee said, adding, "This conviction seems to constitute an insurmountable psychological obstacle to your confronting the reality of HIV/AIDS with the forthrightness that is urgently required" (Business Day, 10/27).
Mbeki previously has questioned the connection between HIV and AIDS and said that anitretroviral drug treatment is "poisonous" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/12). Following "a wave of protest inside and outside South Africa" in response to his remarks, Mbeki announced that he would "withdraw" from discussing HIV/AIDS, the Guardian reports. However, Mbeki earlier this month re-entered the discussion, posting a column on his African National Congress Web site that "lambasted white commentators for complaining about high rates of sexual violence" in the country, according to the Guardian (Guardian, 10/26). AIDS advocates say that the government has been slow to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 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, 10/12).