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Do Zille’s disciples agree with her HIV/Aids views?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

Opposition leader Helen Zille’s penned another newsletter on the HIV/Aids, and is starting to sound like a certain former president she rages against an “Aids Gestapo”. She can believe whatever she wants. But what do her loyal followers think of her views? And why is the Democratic Alliance so silent on the controversy?

I like our health minister Aaron Motsoaledi. He strikes me as a man who has no use for the frippery of political language. Doer, not a posturer, he often boasts about how he once wielded the snipping scissors at a clinic when the recent circumcision drive first started.

I do often fear that we’ll wake up someday and find that Motsoaledi has enthusiastically and passionately done something terrible. Nonetheless, he’s frank when speaking about HIV/Aids. Speaking to reporters in Cape Town, Motsoaledi revealed that the annual death rate had doubled from 1997 to 2008. He laid the blame for this squarely at the door of the approach we’ve taken on HIV/Aids over the years.

“I don’t think we’d have been here if we’d approached the problem in a different way,” he said. “It’s a really obvious question.”

The accusation hangs almost solely around the neck of Thabo Mbeki and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the great Aids denialists.

As refreshing as it is to hear Motsoaledi talk the way he does about the pandemic, I often wonder where voices like his were during the Mbeki years. Why did they never speak up then? It is very clear many in the ANC didn’t agree with Mbeki on HIV/Aids. If they did, they wouldn’t have made such a drastic about-turn on the issue after the Polokwane conference.

Of late, another Mbeki has emerged. Someone who holds broadly unpopular views on HIV/Aids, and believes them to be right not on the strength of scientific convictions, but her own convictions.

I’m speaking of DA leader Helen Zille.

She recently said that men who knowingly spread HIV/Aids by refusing to wear a condom while having sex with multiple partners ought to be prosecuted for attempted murder. She was pilloried for the views by medical and legal experts.

But Zille wasn’t done yet. On Sunday, she wrote another missive, and this one was positively Mbekite. One couldn’t, but be reminded of the former president’s bristling newsletters he wrote at the height of the HIV/Aids battle the Treatment Action Campaign launched against Mbeki.

Zille compares a woman who contracts HIV/Aids through rape by her partner to one who contracts it because her partner didn’t tell her that he has the virus.

“She would never have consented to unprotected sex had she known,” Zille writes. “Betrayed and violated, she also knows that if she takes a stand, she will stand alone. If she lays a charge or sues for the violation of her physical integrity, she will be accused of ‘stigmatising HIV’, ‘driving the pandemic underground’ and ‘violating’ her partner’s ‘right to privacy’. In short, unless she meekly accepts her situation, she is a villain.”


Isn’t this a false dichotomy? What is Zille saying here, that only women get HIV by being raped that can expect to receive empathy from society?

She continues, “This is a consequence of the ‘progressive’ line on HIV/Aids, touted by people who actually have much in common with religious fanatics or fascists. In their blinkered focus on a free-floating single issue, they lose sight of the broader public good. Of course, they believe they are motivated by a commitment to ‘human rights’. But they are very selective in whose ‘rights’ they promote. They claim to ‘own’ the moral high ground, but they hunt in a vicious pack to prevent anyone questioning their assumptions. Slacktivists is too gentle a word to describe them. They are more like an Aids Gestapo.”

Who is this Aids Gestapo? People who disagree with her?

Like, for example, the Treatment Action Campaign, a constitutional law expert and the health consultant she favourably quotes to bolster her argument for criminalising risky sexual behaviour, who wrote a column saying Zille drew the wrong conclusion from her work?

A paper co-written by Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron (who is HIV positive) concluded that “the use of criminal law to address HIV is inappropriate except in rare cases where a person acts with conscious intent to transmit HIV and does so”.

The point is that we’ve been here before. I’m not saying Zille holds the same position as Mbeki on HIV/Aids, but I see the same belligerence in the face of an absence of scientific consensus – and the same stony silence from those who purport to follow her.

So tell me, Zille followers: do you agree with her policies?

If not, why are you silent? DM

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