26 November 2008…Harvard researcher Dr Pride Chigwedere’s doctoral thesis “Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa” conservatively estimates that 330 000 people died prematurely from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005 due to the South African government’s obstruction of life-saving antiretroviral treatment, and at least 35 000 babies were born with HIV infections that could have been prevented. It is accepted that the final figure was much higher.
Then President Thabo Mbeki played a large part in these deaths as the chief embracer of AIDS denialism. Mbeki imposed his personal views on the government as a whole and the Department of Health in particular in order to deny people with AIDS access to life-saving anti-retroviral treatment.
Mbeki has never expressed any responsibility or sorrow for these deaths. Deaths of poor men, women and children. Forgotten people.
1 February 2017…Respected researcher and Health Ombudsman Dr Malegapuru Makgoba releases “No Guns: 94+ Silent Deaths and Still Counting”, a report which finds that there have been 94 unlawful deaths of mentally ill patients following the Gauteng Health Department’s decision to have them transferred to various non-governmental organisations or sent back to their families. He found that the 94 deaths were caused by reasons other than ‘mental illness’. Some of the patients died of starvation and lack of water in the overcrowded unlicensed facilities they were transferred to. It is accepted that the final death count will be over 100. Poor men and women. Soon-to-be forgotten people.
27 February 2017…Former President Thabo Mbeki is lauded, praised and cheered as he takes the coveted chair of Chancellor at the University of South Africa (UNISA).
How short are our memories? What hypocrites we seem to be. How quickly we forgive and forget despite the absence of any apology, explanation or effort at reparation.
As with the silent poor, so with the silent sick and the silent unseen. As with preventable deaths in 2000 or 2005 or 2016, how conveniently most of us forget. How quickly we pass over the lost lives of those that cannot stand up and object. They cannot speak out for they are either dead or have no agency or power to do so.
For these reasons we will not join celebrations welcoming the new UNISA Chancellor Thabo Mbeki. He may have played a sterling role in the liberation struggle, he may be an important intellectual, but his Presidency and life will always be indelibly stained by the deaths caused by his AIDS denialism for which he never apologised. This week’s plaudits are indicative of an unhealthy society where the lives of the poor are worth so little. In the absence of any apology or effort at reparations, he should not be honoured in this way.
To those who think we are wrong to pour rain on Mbeki’s parade, we say examine your consciences and morals. Refresh your memories. Reject you amnesia.
For those who care to care we say: Light a candle and remember those who are gone and those who today still pay a heavy, heavy price. Don’t forget them.