STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (GIN)—Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang is once again in hot water over published remarks that government spending on submarines came before spending on anti-AIDS drugs. STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (GIN)—Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang is once again in hot water over published remarks that government spending on submarines came before spending on anti-AIDS drugs.
According to an interview published by the British Guardian newspaper, Minister Tshabala-Msimang said there was no money available for anti-retroviral drugs for the estimated 4.5 million South Africans with HIV.
“We don’t have the money for that. Where would it come from?” the minister said.
Asked if money earmarked for submarines in the current multi-billion rand arms budget could be reprogrammed for drugs, Tshabala-Msimang reportedly replied that South Africa needed to deter aggressors: “Look at what Bush is doing. He could invade.”
“Anyone who knows me would know I would never say something like that. It’s bizarre,” she told the local news agency Sapa at the ANC’s 51st national conference in Stellenbosch last week.
However, the journalist in question said he stood by the report as a correct version of his conversation with the minister.
Minister Tshabala-Msimang is frequently cited for not aggressively pushing for anti-AIDS drugs for South Africa’s growing population with the virus.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign claims the Minister has held up high-level negotiations for a national antiretroviral (ARV) treatment plan.
The Cape Times reported last Wednesday that the minister had not yet signed an agreement reached at National Economic Development Labor Council, the forum where intensive discussions had been held for several months among government, labor and business about an HIV/AIDS plan that includes ARVs.
“How can I sign a draft agreement? (Labor) Minister Mdladlana and I have to see the final product and then still take it to Cabinet.”
On TAC’s concerns that the department had not yet released a report compiled by South Africa’s top HIV/AIDS researchers that recommended ARV treatment, she said the report had still to be discussed at Minmec, the forum consisting of the national health and provincial departments.
Tshabala-Msimang also claimed that the Guardian newspaper had distorted her comments that food was a priority for South Africans with HIV and that donors should help feed them. “I explained that those suffering from HIV needed the correct nutrition when they take the drugs.”
Tshabalala-Msimang is also drawing fire from opposition parties.
“She continues to fiddle while South Africa burns,” Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Douglas Gibson said in a statement.
United Democratic Movement spokesperson Pieter van Pletzen said Tshabalala-Msimang’s alleged preference for arms over ARVs confirmed the government had “sold out” South Africans.
“Clearly the ANC has declared war on innocent South Africans, and by her own admission prefer to let people die,” he said.
In a separate statement, Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (AEB) leader Cassie Aucamp said Tshabalala-Msimang’s comments were “totally irresponsible.” Statements such as this were not only totally unfounded, but could kill President Thabo Mbeki’s initiatives for an African renaissance and foreign investment in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.