CAPE TOWN - A leading South African anti-AIDS campaigner
Thursday rejected an invitation to join an official delegation to
a U.N. conference, highlighting tension between activists and the
government in one of the world's hardest hit countries.
Sipho Mthathi, general secretary of the Treatment Action
Campaign, said the Health Ministry didn't invite enough others to
the U.N. General Assembly conference at the end of May. Treatment
Action Campaign president Zackie Achmat and South African Health
Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had long been at odds. While
Mthathi was invited to the U.N. meeting, Achmat was not.
"I do not feel that civil society has been adequately respected,"
The Health Ministry rejected the criticism, saying the government
delegation included members of faith-based groups, traditional
healers, youth organizations, business and unions and was fully
representative of civil society.
The row over the General Assembly meeting erupted earlier this
year. The Treatment Action Campaign said the official South
African report was drafted without adequate input from activists
and gave an overly favorable picture of the situation.
Up to 6 million South Africans are infected with the HIV virus
that causes AIDS, the highest number anywhere in the world. Up to
1,000 people die of the disease each day and the national
campaign to provide antiretroviral drugs to AIDS victims has
often been characterized as too little, too late.
Treatment Action Campaign activists have accused Health Minister
Tshabalala-Msimang of being reluctant to promote anti-AIDS
medicines and criticized her penchant for preaching the benefits
of garlic and olive oil.
The Treatment Action Campaign is currently suing
Tshabalala-Msimang for her refusal to stop the Matthias Rath
Foundation from distributing its nutritional supplements to poor
South Africans and promoting them as an alternative to
Groups such as Doctors Without Borders say Rath is undermining
confidence in established treatment in poor townships around Cape
Town. His methods also have been criticized by the World Health
Organization, the U.N. Children's Fund, UNAIDS and researchers
from the Harvard School of Public Health.
The treatment campaign last month accused Tshabalala-Msimang of
refusing to accredit it and its affiliate, the AIDS Law Project,
for the General Assembly meeting as non-governmental
The health ministry retorted this was because of the
organizations' track record of using public platforms to
criticize the government. It finally invited Mthathi - who is
less vocal than Achmat - to join the official delegation.
"The entire process for selecting and then announcing the
delegation has been unsatisfactory," said Mthathi in an open
letter. "For TAC to now attend within this delegation lends
respectability to a process that we feel has mostly been
unilateral and non-transparent."