wow, where to start. south african politics has completely erupted in the past couple of days, due to the firing of the deputy minster of health, nozizwe madlala-routledge. to give some background (well, quite a bit of background...), south africa's president (thabo mbeki) and minister of health (manto tshabalala-msimang) are both aids denialists. manto is famous for setting up a tent filled with garlic, lemons, african potatoes, and beetroot at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto, declaring that those foods were the treatment for hiv/aids (hint: they aren't...). both manto and mbeki have caused massive domestic and international outcry as a result of their inaccurate and irresponsible stances on aids treatment, and between the two of them have millions of deaths on their hands, as south africa could have afforded the proper treatment (anti-retroviral drugs), and simply chose not to distribute them.
fast forward to november of 2006, when the deputy minister of health decided to defy the african national congress' party line (the anc is the ruling party in south africa, by a landslide) and state openly that hiv causes aids, and that antiretrovirals are the necessary treatment, not african potatoes. in february of 2007, the minster of health fell ill, and in the meantime, the deputy minister sprung into action, working with civil society groups like the treatment action campaign and the aids law project to draft the national strategic plan on hiv/aids, which is a responsible and viable plan to address south africa's aids crisis (it includes antiretroviral distribution, scaling up prevention of mother to child transmission, and government sponsored prevention campaigns, among other things), one which has been lauded as incredibly comprensive, and something south africa should have done years ago.
now, however, manto is back in power, and is doing everything in her power to undermine the nsp. rumor has it that she's attempting to slash its budget by over 60%. her department is the only one whose annual budget has shrunken over the past several years, which is highly suspect given the massively underfunded state of the public health care system, and the desperate shortage of medical workers. and, of course, the demand on the public health system is rising, with increasing numbers of people infected with diseases like TB as well as 5.5m people living with hiv/aids.
which brings us to yesterday, women's day, a national holiday in south africa to celebrate the empowerment and advances of women in south african society. and, in order to celebrate empowered women, thabo mbeki completed the last step in his set up of deputy minister of health nozizwe madlala-routledge, and fired her. the reasons given for her firing were a total sham, which has become obvious under minimal amounts of press scrutiny. This is a good summary article and an excellent cartoon from south africa's favorite satirist/long time tac supporter, zapiro, can be found here. even if you don't buy that the reasons given were a complete ruse, this article should give pause--not only have other cabinet members done far worse and not gotten fired, mbeki is making it a point to say that he's not obliged to give reasons for dismissing cabinet members. while he's constitutionally correct, he's hardly making a good faith effort at laying the foundation for a transparent, accountable democracy. then again, this is nothing new for mbeki--there was *just* a scandal about freedom of the press, in which the government placed a gag order on the mail & guardian, sa's best independent rag to keep them from reporting on problems within the government owned south african broadcasting corporation (sabc). ironically, there's no freedom of the press to report on the freedom of the press... m&g summarizes as many of the details as they're allowed here. lack of transparency? par for the course for mbeki.
i had the chance to attend the press conference this morning in which nozizwe spoke out about her firing, and it was... intense, to say the least. for starters, the people holding the press conference were ostensibly only letting in people with press credentials... but they also only appeared to be enforcing that on black people. i say this, because about fifty tac members were there in support of her/to protest her firing, and they were all turned away, yet i was able to get in with little trouble. the tac members managed to make themselves heard though, literally, a short while later--they were singing protest songs outside the building in support of nozizwe, and they were audible through the windows three stories up in the room where the press conference was being held--and when nozizwe heard them, she gave a wry smile. also, true to her character and her dedication to the people of south africa, she gave a separate address to her supporters after the press conference, and joined in on the singing and dancing. (personal aside: i really wish i could learn some of these songs and join in--it feels very weird to me to be standing *beside* a protest, rather than protesting). in the conference itself, the former deputy minister of health did a fantastic job of demonstrating that she had gotten completely set up, and that the reasons for firing her were a complete ruse. she, and most of south africa, believe that she was fired for openly and publicly disagreeing with the leader of the ruling party, and for taking a stand that differed from the stated policy of the presidency and the department of health. for doing that, most of south africa knows her as a hero with an incredible amount of courage. mbeki, however, apparently only saw her as undermining his authority. paraphrasing from some of the radio coverage, her error was to serve the citizenry rather than the presidency.
in other news, i've been rather silent recently because i've been working like crazy on the informational leaflet to kick off tac's new campaign against rape, which was introduced at a march wednesday morning in johannesburg. i wrote the text for it and advised on layout--gilad isaacs deserves credit for all of the technical layout work--and, not to be self-promoting, but i'm rather happy with how it turned out. once i have a pdf copy, i'll find a way to post it. with that finished, we had women's day off, and so we went to boulders, the beach where the south african penguins kick about, and chilled with them for a bit, then moved on to some impromptu hiking around on chapman's peak. when i have the chance to post pictures, i'll do so--it was quite a fun adventure.
initially, this post was going to be about my more general thoughts on women's day, but then all of this chaos about the deputy minister broke. i'll condense my thoughts to this--while the intent behind women's day strikes me as a good one, it smacks of the same problem as black history month in the US--it's a token gesture when there are clearly bigger issues to be addressed, one that acts as a placebo when strong remedies are needed. dedicating a day or a month towards the empowerment of a marginalised group is worthless when every other day of the year, they remain on the margins. and the fact that there's more to be done is evident, in everything from the fact that the police have quit investigating this outrageous rape case to the fact that most companies in this country interpret women's day as "well, since you have the day off, it's the perfect time for you to buy a new (insert household appliance here)! Come to our store in celebration of your domesticity!" and then following all of his self-important pontificating about the importance of women's equality, the president goes and sacks one of the few female politicians who dares speak her mind... *sigh* i'd be lying if i said i wasn't disheartened.