"Are you or have you ever been an HIV-denialist?"

In his new magazine Essop Pahad asks Thabo Mbeki about his controversial views on AIDS

Last week saw the launch of The Thinker, a vanity project of former minister in the presidency, Essop Pahad. In an editorial Pahad writes that the magazine will "strive to give all its contributors the freedom to express what they think, understanding that openness in the context of ideas, theoretical divergences and multi-dimensional practice is a necessary condition for fundamental social transformation. We are committed to opening up the space for honestly-expressed views, mindful that the ideas, analyses and commentaries that we will publish may be uncomfortable for some and anathema for others."

The main item of interest in the launch edition is an interview by Pahad with his friend and former boss Thabo Mbeki. As minister in the presidency Pahad was both an enforcer for, and protector of, Mbeki. He used his position as head of government communications to obfuscate Mbeki's true (‘dissident' or ‘denialist') views on ‘HIV and AIDS'. In the interview Pahad notes the allegation that Mbeki is an AIDS ‘dissident'. He then asks: "Are you or have you ever been an HIV-denialist"? Mbeki answers that the "time will surely come" when it will be possible to discuss this issue rationally. But he goes on to make clear that he remains wedded to his contrarian views on the disease. He states:

"To assist people who honestly, and I mean honestly, want to understand what I sought to do with regard to the issue of HIV and AIDS, I would recommend that they read the 2001 Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel Report which is carried on the website (see here - PDF). They should also read the remarks I made at the very first meeting of the Panel, which also appear on the same website (see here). The issues we raised never impacted on the implementation of the government programme which, then as now, was based in part on the thesis that HIV causes AIDS. Anybody who is honestly interested in understanding the challenges relating to the issue of AIDS will know that the issues discussed by the Advisory Panel so many years ago are matters with which scientists continue to grapple to this day. Among these are the search by scientists for an answer to the question why world medical science has so far failed to develop an HIV vaccine, despite the brain power and the billions of dollars that have been focused on this project for decades."

Pahad also asks Mbeki about the allegation that he snubbed the ANC by not accepting an invitation to attend the party's manifesto launch. Mbeki replied that "The only ‘invitation' I received... was an SMS sent to my PA by the PA of one of the members of the ANC NEC, to attend an ANC fund-raising dinner during the evening preceding the launch, with the obvious and natural presumption that I would then attend the rally to launch the Manifesto the following day. I do not believe that this is the manner in which the ANC leadership would have extended an invitation to me to attend the ANC Manifesto launch, if it seriously wanted me to do so."

Pahad has had at least two previous forays into publishing. According to the curriculum vitae published on the presidency's website Pahad "represented the SACP on the Editorial Council of the World Marxist Review between1975 and 1985." More recently, he successfully prevailed upon ABSA bank to pay the author Ronald Suresh Roberts R1,43m to produce a book on Thabo Mbeki's intellectual traditions. Roberts is listed as one of a number of "contributing analysts" to the magazine, but no article of his appears in the first edition.

The advertising rates for The Thinker - which has a print run of 5000 - range from R12,500 to R29,950 a page (exc. vat). Among the companies and institutions who have chosen to advertise in the March 2009 edition are Mabula Game Lodge, Anant Singh productions, Alexander Forbes, DHL, The Media Development & Diversity Agency, Sasol, Motani Lodge, Pinnacle Point Group Limited, Sahara computers and Tata Africa.

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