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Mail and Guardian-Johannesburg
EDITORIAL: Not the Sarafina III show!31, 1997

January 31, 1997
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 foolishness.

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.