AIDS activists, scientists and others from around the world were surprised today by the attendance of a high-level government official at the 4th annual Southern African AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. South Africa?s Deputy President Baleka Mbete was there and addressed the crowd, the first time ever that a senior member of the government has attended the event.       

VOA?s Darren Taylor is in Durban and told English to Africa reporter Kim Lewis about the significance of the top official?s appearance. ?Initially it was the new minister of health, Barbara Hogan, who was scheduled to make a speech here. However, she?s in China at the moment attending a World Health Organization meeting about tuberculosis. They (the South African delegates) were very surprised when their country?s deputy president, Baleka Mbete, turned up to deliver a speech. Also we?re in the middle of a hectic election year in South Africa, with a national election just three weeks away, and the senior government officials are therefore all on the election trail. In that context as well, Mbete?s appearance is highly unexpected.?