the health minstry just can't avoid controversy. a good deal of south african society is still in an uproar over the firing of the deputy minister of health, and thabo isn't faring too well in the international press either--when the new york times and both the guardian and the economist have serious questions about your leadership and decisionmaking, it's safe to say that it's an impressively poor call.
but the latest stories about the health ministry are hilariously scandalous. manto tshabalala-msimang, the health minister, has been raked over the coals by the sunday times, one of the biggest papers in SA. they broke a story on sunday the 12th proclaiming that a) the reason she needed a liver transplant was due to alcoholism, and b) that she drank while in the hospital for a previous surgery and harrassed hospital staff until they brought her alcohol. in response, manto sued the hospital for her medical records, which she eventually got back from the sunday times, though they maintained a copy of them.
the following tuesday, the democratic alliance (DA), the opposition party here, made an allegation that manto got to jump the queue for a liver due to behind the scenes maneuvering by president mbeki and herself, a charge that both vigorously deny. manto has not, however, denied that she was drinking in the hospital. interesting.
all the while, manto/her spokespeople/anc spokespeople have been castigating the sunday times at every opportunity... but the sunday times is not a paper to take such things lying down. instead, they took the opportunity this past sunday to destroy any remaining shreds of manto's credibility (if anyone believed that dr. beetroot had *any* remaining credibility, that is) by breaking a story that she was fired from her post as the superintendent of a hospital in botswana because she was stealing from patients who were under anaesthetics. the times also reported that because of her thievery, they banned her from the country for ten years. the sunday times also renewed their cries that she had alcoholic liver disease and reported that she was drinking before the procedure (patients are usually prohibited to drink for six to twelve months before the surgery) and has kept drinking since.
something to note here is that newspapers place their biggest and most sensationalist/interesting headlines on posters that go up daily on lightpoles around the city, so you see that the newspaper is something worth buying. so last sunday, the street was covered in "MANTO THE DRUNK" and "MANTO IS A THIEF." anyone remotely involved with hiv/aids issues couldn't help but be at least slightly pleased with the story about thievery. but she's still never going to get fired, because her husband, the head of the ANC treasury, knows too many of mbeki's secrets.
in the midst of all of this, thabo mbeki released his "ANC Today" newsletter, like he does every friday. his focus this time? not his health minster, in the midst of complete scandal... instead, his fired deputy health minister! of the tome that he wrote, a mere paragraph is dedicated to the manto controversy, with the rest of it an attempt to discredit the deputy minister of health. the tone is extraordinarily defensive, and at one point, he quotes at length an article in "the independent," a british newspaper, that quoted TAC, the DA, and a highly respected professor at UCT, Nicoli Nattrass (who, by the way, is the author of the very excellent "Mortal Combat," a book on SA's struggle with HIV that was published a month or two ago). the intent was to quote the article in order to discredit it... the problem with that strategy is that it was all true. his refutation is a complete tap dance, and not a very good one at that. perhaps he's relying upon the revisionist history (fiction?) written by his biographer (fantasy author?) Ronald Suresh Roberts, who did his damnedest to erase the entirety of mbeki's shameful legacy on AIDS by characterising his fatally dilatory stance on antiretroviral roll-out as merely "cautious." but i digress.
mbeki closes his letter in a typical mbeki fashion--subtly (or not so subtly) characterising his detractors as racist colonisers. the roberts book does the same thing. and even if one were to believe that every non-black who was an mbeki detractor was a racist, a difficult claim to swallow, that would still leave all of the black mbeki critics as what? unthinking, mindless, colonised drones with a complete lack of agency? manto has leveled this criticism against tac because two of its three main leaders in the past were a white man and a colored man--she must have somehow forgotten the existence of sipho mthathi, tac's other leader, just as brilliant as the other two--and a black woman. and that's to say nothing of the 16,000+ TAC leaders and members. it seems to me that this country is never going to move beyond race and racism if they're perpetually used as excuses... but that's a much lengthtier post for another time.
two things to close on:
Zapiro's top 10 manto cartoons
and a brilliant op ed by stephen lewis, the former un special envoy to africa on hiv/aids, and one of my personal heroes.
for me, the bottom line is that i believe in the right of access to health care for all, and that includes manto tshabalala-msimang, no matter how infuriating her policy is. i hope that if sunday times is right that she's battling alcoholism, she gets proper treatment for it. but she needs to get healthy and sober out of office. her status as health minister doesn't give her the right to jump organ transplant queues, and it certainly doesn't give her the right to a liver if her disease is alcohol related and she's continuing to drink. her policy has already proven inexcusable (no matter how hard mbeki and roberts try), and her history of theft just adds insult to injury.