IT is with foreboding that we watch the unfolding of the latest
Aids saga - the excited discovery by the Cabinet of a cure for
the disease which ranks, at least in the popular imagination,
as the world's public enemy number one. The sense of d=E9j=E0
vu - Sarafina II and all that - is overwhelming.
It would perhaps be foolish, bearing in mind the circumstances
in which Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, to dismiss
the possibility that Virodene is a miracle drug. But that is
not the point. Even if it does have the extraordinary powers
that are claimed for it, the Cabinet's apparent collaboration
in the development of the drug - and, more specifically, the
circumvention of the drug control system - smacks of
The Minister of Health, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, was abroad this week
- pursuing her ongoing love affair with Cuba. So we have not
had the benefit of her input about the events which led to the
Cabinet giving a standing ovation to the three Pretoria
University researchers who "invented" Virodene.
In the absence of such explanation, we are left to speculate,
with the help of the few titbits of information which have been
released or leaked by the government. The impression given by
this sketchy evidence is that the minister, smarting from the
pasting she took over Sarafina II, stumbled across the Virodene
"cure" and - determined to confound her critics and "show the
world" - fast-tracked its development.
If this speculation is borne out, it raises a number of
questions, notably whether the minister consulted her many
competent civil servants who could have been expected to advise
her on the impropriety of such a course of action. Questions
also need to be answered as to the relationship between the
three researchers and the government.
Recently reviewing his first years in office, President Nelson
Mandela identified the Sarafina II scandal as one of the worst
blunders of his administration. We assume therefore that he
will deal toughly with any repeat. In the meantime, we would
plead: let's have transparency this time around, Mr President.