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Heated Debate In SAF Parliament Over AIDS, Racism

In South Africa, a parliamentary debate over HIV/AIDS triggered stinging criticism by President Thabo Mbeki against those he calls “bigots.”

Mr. Mbeki was accused of being silent on the pandemic. But he responded by criticizing those, who he says, consider blacks “sub-human disease carriers.” He says they have been corrupted by the “disease of racism.” President Mbeki also condemned those who allege sexual violence is on the rise, when statistics show it is declining.

Among those who took part in the parliamentary debate was Ryan Coeztzee, health spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance Party. From Cape Town, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about Mr. Mbeki’s remarks.

He says, “It began when I asked a question of the president in Parliament. What happened though is that three weeks ago, the president, in his weekly letter, attacked Cathleen Cravero, who’s the UNAIDS deputy director general and a journalist called Charlene Smith. And he attacked them for being racist because they had said there was a link between the spread of HIV in Africa and the prevalence of rape. And he attacked them for harboring a stereotype of Africans, black Africans, as sort of sexual savages.”

Mr. Coetzee says he asked Mr. Mbeki about the issue and about what he called his “lack of leadership” on HIV/AIDS. He says, “(The president) refrained from dealing with the subject of HIV/AIDS. But what he did do was reveal the reason why he can’t face the facts about HIV and reveal the reason why he can’t provide leadership in the campaign against HIV and AIDS. The reason is he believes that if he concedes that HIV causes AIDS, and if he acknowledges that HIV is spread predominantly through sexual intercourse then he would be conceding to the veracity of the supposed stereotype held by white people – that black people are Rampant sexual beasts” to use a term that he quoted in his reply."

Mr. Coetzee says while obviously some may hold that view, the majority of people, including members of the Democratic Alliance, do not. President Mbeki used strong language to respond, saying, “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.”

The MP says he’s not sure why the president holds that view. He says there was a similar incident in parliament in the year 2000, when Mr. Mbeki responded to a question by the opposition. At the time, he made the controversial statement denying the link between HIV and AIDS.