CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Former President Nelson Mandela has
repudiated the controversial position on AIDS web
of his successor, Thabo Mbeki, saying HIV is the primary
cause of the disease that threatens to kill 6 million South
In an interview published by Independent Group newspapers on
Friday, Mandela, 82, said he would respect "the dominant
opinion which prevails throughout the world" that HIV causes
AIDS until he was shown conclusive and scientific proof this
Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela in June last year, has taken the
opposite view, saying he will not accept the link unless it is
proved anew by an international panel he has appointed to test
the link between human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, and the
acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS.
Appearing to suggest that Mbeki should align himself with the
scientific community, Mandela said: "I would like to be very
careful because people in our positions, when you take a stand,
you might find that established principles are undermined,
sometimes without scientific backing."
Welfare Minister Zola Skweyiya told reporters earlier this
month the AIDS pandemic would kill about 6 million South
Africans over the next 10 years if it was left unchecked.
More than 10% of South Africans--about 4.2 million
people--carry HIV and the disease is spreading in the country
faster than anywhere else on earth.
Since Mbeki first voiced his doubts in the upper chamber of
parliament last year, only one cabinet minister from the ruling
African National Congress , Labour Minister
Membathisi Mdladlana, has dared to say publicly that HIV causes
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang told a news conference
last week she had never denied a link, but became angry when
pressed to state that HIV did cause AIDS, saying: "You cannot
put words into my mouth...I am not a schoolgirl."
Mbeki told parliament last week his strategy to fight AIDS was
based on the "thesis" that HIV caused AIDS, but refused to say
he accepted the link.
In a statement strongly contested by doctors, he told
legislators that a virus could not cause a syndrome.
Asked in a recent interview with Time magazine whether he would
acknowledge a link, Mbeki said: "This is precisely where the
problem starts. No, I am saying that you cannot attribute
immune deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus."AIDS
activists charge that Mbeki's reluctance to acknowledge a link
is undermining efforts to promote safe sex amongst young people
and to help HIV-positive mothers protect their babies.
The powerful South African Congress of Trade Unions (Cosatu),
Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane and opposition leaders
have repeatedly urged Mbeki to abandon his scepticism and put
out a strong message on the HIV-AIDS link.
Mandela has been careful to avoid criticising Mbeki, but in his
interview with Daily News editor Kaizer Nyatsumba, he said his
successor worked under great pressure and added "...now and
again (he) must come under severe criticism."