South Africa’s approach to the AIDS epidemic under former President Thabo Mbeki was akin to genocide, the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions said.
“At least 350,000 people died in just 10 years while the government was dilly-dallying and sending confused messages,” Zwelinzima Vavi said in an interview with Johannesburg’s Sunday Independent newspaper, according to a transcript published yesterday. “It was an act of genocide.”
Mbeki’s administration resisted the provision of anti-retroviral drugs, saying they were expensive and potentially toxic. His health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, urged those with AIDS to eat garlic, beetroot and olive oil and backed the use of traditional medicines to combat the disease.
While Mbeki refused to take a public test for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, that causes AIDS, President Jacob Zuma has taken one to heighten awareness of the disease. Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. The country has 5.7 million people infected with the virus, more than any other nation.
Cosatu, the country’s biggest labor union federation, supported Zuma in his successful bid to take over as head of the ruling African National Congress from Mbeki in 2007 and as national president in 2009.
South Africa is now stepping up an anti-AIDS campaign and the number of people receiving AIDS drugs at public hospitals has more than doubled to about 1 million since 2008.
“Today we have the biggest HIV/AIDS program in the world,” Vavi said.