Anthony Brink strikes back

Outspoken AIDS dissident retaliates against Ronald Suresh Roberts

The outspoken AIDS dissident, Advocate Anthony Brink, has struck back at Ronald Suresh Roberts, following the latter's vicious attack on him in, Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki.

In his book Roberts describes Brink as a "sometime ally of the German vitamin salesman, Dr Matthias Rath" and a "self-styled ‘radical' often to be found invoking Mbeki's name in his own cause." Roberts also makes various demeaning claims about Brink; in an apparent attempt to put some distance between himself and his former friend, and to give some credibility to his dubious contention that Mbeki has never been an AIDS dissident.

Last week Brink published his 376 page reply, titled Lying and Thieving: The fraudulent scholarship of Ronald Suresh Roberts..., on the website The manuscript contains an account by Brink of their relationship, a refutation of certain of the claims made against him, and a critique of Roberts's "fraudulent misrepresentation" of Mbeki's views on ‘HIV and AIDS.'

The book is clearly driven by Brink's burning sense of grievance at Roberts's betrayal of their friendship. Brink writes that between April 2005 and the end of 2006 he was a friend and confidant of Roberts. For instance, he proofread the manuscript of Roberts's biography of Nadine Gordimer, assisted him with legal advice, and "heard every sad detail of his failed marriage; and closely discussed his defamation action against the Sunday Times."

Yet despite all this, Brink writes, in Fit to govern Roberts "determinedly sinks an ice-pick in my head, over and over again." As he himself notes his treatment is part of a broader pattern. In his October 2004 Sunday Times article Chris Barron wrote that most of Roberts's relationships "ended in bitterness and regret for the other party." Lying and thieving does little to contradict Barron's description of Roberts as "unlikeable". Brink writes at one point:

" awful aspect of going out with Roberts anywhere was the regular prospect that he'd start abusing the waiter - in Cape Town, usually a young white male. It was the strangest thing, this compulsion to degrade and humiliate for his evening to be complete. The order would take too long or the wine wasn't cold enough or some other petty thing; and whereas normal people could sort things out, Roberts had to make an unpleasant scene. The endpoint had to be total humiliation..."

Politically Brink's more important critique is of the sustained misrepresentation of Mbeki's views on AIDS by Roberts and Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad. Mbeki has acknowledged to both Allister Sparks and Mark Gevisser that it was Brink's writings which first sparked off his interest (in 1999) in the ‘dissident' viewpoint on HIV and AIDS. Like Gevisser, Brink is in no doubt that Mbeki was and is an AIDS dissident. However, he believes that Mbeki was right to have questioned the Western scientific view of the aetiology of ‘HIV and AIDS' and to have opposed the provision of anti-retroviral drugs to poor black South Africans.

In other words, Mbeki had no need for an apologist (such as Roberts) for his views on AIDS, for he had nothing to apologise for. This is a view with which Mbeki seems to agree. The president told Gevisser earlier this year that it was "very unfortunate" that his initiative to re-examine the science of ‘HIV and AIDS' had been "drowned."

In his manuscript Brink is careful to make clear that his attack on Roberts should not be taken as a sign of disloyalty to the president. He states that he regrets any embarrassment publication may cause Mbeki, "because my personal respect for him is boundless, and my political loyalty complete."