Former South African President Mandela Breaks Taboo To Announce Last-Surviving Son Died of AIDS-Related Causes
Former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday broke one of the country's "great taboos" by announcing that his oldest son has died of AIDS-related causes, London's Guardian reports (Carroll, Guardian, 1/7). Makgatho Mandela, who was 54, died in a Johannesburg hospital on Thursday from AIDS-related causes, Mandela said at a news conference, a revelation that ended "weeks of speculation that Makgatho had the disease," the Washington Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 1/7). Makgatho had been hospitalized in critical condition for several weeks, and Mandela had cancelled several appointments to be with his son, an unnamed spokesperson said, the UPI/Washington Times reports (UPI/Washington Times, 1/6). Makgatho was Mandela's only surviving son, after a car accident killed his other son, Thembekile, while Mandela was in prison during the apartheid era, South Africa's Star reports (Maphumulo/Gifford, Star, 1/6). Mandela at the news conference said, "I announce that my son has died of AIDS," adding, "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness, like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary" (Wines, New York Times, 1/7). South African President Thabo Mbeki paid his respects to Mandela's family at their home, SABC News reports (SABC News, 1/6). An African National Congress statement said that the "thoughts and prayers of the leadership and membership of the ANC are with the Mandela family at this time of grief and loss," South Africa's Business Day reports. "As they mourn the loss of Makgatho, we hope that they may draw comfort from the support and wishes of all South Africans," ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said (Business Day, 1/6).
In publicly disclosing the cause of Makgatho's death, Mandela "becomes one of a few prominent figures" in South Africa to acknowledge that HIV/AIDS has impacted their families, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 1/6). He said that talking about HIV/AIDS is the only way to for people to stop "regarding [the disease] as extraordinary and for which people will go to hell and not to heaven," the SAPA/News24.com reports (SAPA/News24.com, 1/6). Mandela's announcement "contrasts" with Mbeki's previous comments on the disease, the AP/USA Today reports. Mbeki has "denied knowing anyone who died of AIDS," according to the AP/USA Today (AP/USA Today, 1/6). In addition, Mbeki previously has questioned the connection between HIV and AIDS and said that antiretroviral drug treatment is "poisonous" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/27/04). Mandela did not comment on Mbeki's views but said, "I hope that as time goes on, we realize that it is important for us to talk openly about people who die of AIDS" (AP/USA Today, 1/6). Mandela, who has been South Africa's "most prominent voice calling for greater action against" HIV/AIDS, said his advocacy was not linked to his son's HIV status, the New York Times reports. "I have been saying this for the past years even before I even suspected a member of my family has AIDS," he said (Wines/O'Neil, New York Times, 1/6). More than five million South Africans are HIV-positive, and an estimated 600 South Africans die of AIDS-related causes every day, according to the AP/Long Island Newsday (Zavis, AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/6).
Members of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign offered condolences to Mandela, who is affectionately known as Madiba, and his family and said that they hope Mandela's "courageous" decision to announce that his son died of AIDS-related causes "will encourage more people to be counseled, tested for HIV and, when necessary, treated," according to a TAC release (TAC release, 1/7). Thanduxolo Doro, a spokesperson for the country's National Association of People Living With AIDS, said that "social stigma" against people living with HIV/AIDS is "strong in rural areas where the bulk of South Africa's HIV infections occur," adding, "People live in small communities, and the fear of attack, or even of just being mocked by their neighbors, can keep them quiet. AIDS has been associated with bad behavior, with sleeping around. Nobody wants to be associated with that" (Quinn, Reuters, 1/7). Patricia de Lille, leader of the opposition Independent Democrats party, said that Mandela's "courage shows his commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS in this country and his willingness to save many more lives currently affected by this pandemic" (Peta, Independent, 1/7). Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, said, "I would like to pay tribute to Madiba for his courageous decision to speak out about the cause of his son's death," adding, "I, for one, am not surprised at Madiba's decision to do so because he has always been not only the father of his children but also of the entire nation" (South African Press Association, 1/6).
'Silence and Shame' Are 'Biggest Obstacles' in AIDS Fight, Editorial Says
One of the "biggest obstacles" to fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa is the "culture of silence and shame that continues to surround the disease," and Mandela's announcement "was an important step toward ending a taboo that keeps many people across Africa from talking openly about the disease's impact on them and their families, thereby hampering treatment and prevention efforts," a New York Times editorial says. Mandela has "emerged as one of the world's most prominent voices for greater action to fight the scourge" of HIV/AIDS, and his "decision to reveal the tragic toll of the disease on his family should significantly help the cause," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 1/7).
"The World" -- a coproduction of BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston -- on Thursday reported on Makgatho's death. The segment includes comments from TAC Chair Zackie Achmat and Mandela (Kruger, "The World," PRI, 1/6). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.