PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL: Mbeki's lost AIDS letter

A crucial document of the former president's views on HIV/AIDS is finally published

A recent study by Harvard researchers has estimated - conservatively - that the prolonged refusal by the Mbeki government to provide anti-retroviral drugs through the public health care system in South Africa resulted in some 365,000 early deaths.

This accounting has been accepted by South Africa's new Minister of Health, Barbara Hogan, who told Celia Dugger of the New York Times "I feel ashamed that we have to own up to what Harvard is saying ... The era of denialism is over completely in South Africa."

There is a lot that is known about Mbeki's racially driven immersion in AIDS pseudo-science. The ANC government's involvement in the putative AIDS cure Virodene - which led to the initial hostility to AZT and then into ‘denialism' - has been documented in detail on this website (see here.) For an article setting out Mbeki's subsequent AIDS ‘dissidence' see here.

But there is much that still has to come out about the secret history of that period. It is beginning to do so. As Dugger notes, since Mbeki's recall "stories about what happened inside the ANC have begun to tumble out, offering unsettling glimpses of how South Africa's AIDS policies went so wrong."

One of the important missing documents has been the letter written by Thabo Mbeki - with the help of Minister Essop Pahad and his legal advisor, Mojanku Gumbi - to the head of the Medical Research Council Professor William Makgoba. It was sent off under the name of - but not signed by - the then Premier of Limpopo Ngoako Ramatlhodi.

Shortly thereafter Ramatlhodi had told Makgoba that he had been acting "on behalf of a collective of the President, Pahad, and Mojanku." The letter had been sent as a Word document to Makgoba and, it subsequently emerged, the electronic signature on the document suggested that it had been written on Mbeki's personal computer. Under properties it had stated: "Author: Thabo Mbeki", "Company: Office of the President".

Although the letter has been reported on before it has never been published. However, a PDF version was posted along with Dugger's New York Times article on the cost of Mbeki's AIDS policy. Ramatlhodi had confirmed to Dugger the true origin of the letter. A transcription follows below. It provides a vivid insight into President Mbeki's state of mind at the time, his racial paranoia and his hubris. (The references to Mbeki in the third person were probably inserted at the end of the drafting process.)

Mbeki's letter to Makgoba:


December 11, 2000

Dear Professor Makgoba,

I beg for your indulgence for writing this unsolicited letter to you.

It may well be that when you receive it you will not have time to read it given your tight schedule However, I do request that you spare some of your invaluable time to respond to the matters raised in this letter in order to educate me and others so that we become more enlightened on this issue I am about to raise.

The matter I want to raise relates to this rather vexed issue of HIV/AIDS.

You might ask why I pick on you in this regard. My impression is that you have emerged as the towering authority on this issue. At least that is how the liberal press in this country and elsewhere in the world would have us believe. This is the reason why I thought it prudent to initiate an intellectual debate with one who is becoming an arbiter on a matter as serious as the one under consideration.

I have no doubt that you would be fully aware of the unabating character assassination our President has bean subjected to by the media on this issue. The depth and scale of the assault is nothing less than a public lynching of the head of state and government. What concerns me and others like me is that this media uses you as the counterveiling and educated voice of scientific truth and sanity, that is opposed to the uneducated and irrational voice of President Thabo Mbeki.
The point about this particular matter is that whereas the persuasive influence of political assertions depends greatly on popular beliefs and convictions, the validity of scientific truths does not depend on opinion polls.

One of the peculiar things about the controversy that has raged around the head of President Mbeki on the issue of HIV/AIDS is that this truism has been turned on its head.

In this rather strange situation, the politician seems to be searching for the truth, regardless of the content of popular belief, which is a fundamental matter with regard to the politician's obligation to win votes in elections, and therefore survive as a successful politician.

On the other hand, the scientists who differ with him seem to justify their "scientific" propositions on the base that opinion polls, among scientists and the ordinary people, demonstrate popular support for their views.

And yet, almost by definition, new scientific truths are a repudiation of popular and generally accepted views, which makes scientific originality inherently n act of scientific rebellion.

It would seem to me that even in a revolution, the successful politician must skate on the crest of the incoming tide.

On the contrary, the epoch making scientist, the revolutionary scientific thinker, must swim against the powerful force of the incoming tide.

However, I may be moving ahead of myself and the case I seek to present to you.

Let me therefore start where I should have begun in the first place.

In your very challenging book, "Mokoko," you make the blowing very interesting observation,

"For example, course curricula (in African Universities) were designed to be extensions and at times replicas of the curricula in the colonial power. The examples of the medical and engineering curricula in South Africa and West Africa come to mind. Most South African doctors today practise, or would find it easier to practice the medicine they were taught at Medical School better in the UK than in South Africa' for the curriculum is based on and is a true replica of the British system of health care. The textbooks, the journals and the role models are almost exclusively British-American. Even diseases for which we have enormous advantages, prevalence and experiences, the South African doctor has to wait for research or solutions about aetiology, modes of presentation and treatment protocols to originate from Europe and America, where ten or twenty patients will have been studied. By faithfully copying this curriculum the British of course reward us with recognition; and this in the simple-minded constitutes international standards and recognition. The faithful reproduction of curricula appl(ies) to many other fields of study. Having studied in both the UK and America I realise how sensitive and suspicious the British or American scholars are of knowledge outside their own experiences. For South Africa, there were two logical reasons for this imitative approach: to maintain international standards and recognition that we are acceptable to the colonial power and to facilitate the education and subsequent return of the colonialists back to the motherland. The criterion of standards was not qualitative, but socio-political and historical. English-speaking colonies wanted recognition from Britain, French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking wanted recognition from France and Portugal respectively. At the same time when this recognition was taking place in Africa, there were no reciprocal recognitions of standards between either Britain, France or Portugal in terms of their education systems. To the contrary, the British did not recognise French, Portuguese or Spanish degrees and despised them." (Mokoko, p 174.)

As you know, some of the questions that President Mbeki as asked with regard to HIV/AIDS are:

  • since HIV infection in 1985 affected essentially male homosexuals in both South Africa and the United States, what has happened to change the situation in South Africa, such that HIV transmission in the latter has become heterosexual?
  • since HIV was said not to be endemic in this part of the world in 1985, when did it become endemic and why?
  • In general, why is the transmission of HIV in the developed western world largely restricted to gay men and intravenous drug users while in Africa it affects almost completely ordinary heterosexuals with virtually no incidence of drug abuse? and,
  • what substance is there to the argument about the dangerous toxicity of such anti-retroviral drugs as AZT and what is the implication of this?

Again as you [are] aware, President Mbeki has been in contact with some of the so-called AIDS ‘dissidents', such as Dr David Rasnick.

Seine of these ‘dissidents' serve with you and other ‘orthodox AIDS scientists' on our President's Scientific AIDS Panel.
The combination of these two factors - the President's inquiry end his contact with the ‘dissidents' - has produced various responses, many of them distinctly unpleasant.

One of these, as you know, is the charge that the President is lagging behind the development of scientific knowledge by at least 15 years.

What is said is that the questions the President is raising were answered by western scientists at least 15 years ago.

It is also said that the ‘dissidents' the President speaks to lost the scientific argument to other western scientists at least 15 years ago.

After this seemingly powerful argument, it is assumed and intended that our President should then admit the error of his ways with regard to the matter of HIV/AIDS and shut up!

All that is said is that Western science long made a ruling!

The question is then asked - what right does a non-scientist have, such as our President, to question matters that science in Britain, France, Portugal and the United States answered many years ago!

The real question however that those who oppose President Mbeki are asking is, what right does any African have to question the findings of western science, regardless of whether he or she is a scientist or not!

Indeed, a petition has been signed allegedly by many scientists, part of whose argument is precisely this - that President Mbeki is wrong to ask questions when western science has already answered such questions.

I understand that you were one of the signatories of this petition, which was prepared in the context of the Durban International AIDS Conference.

Everything I know limited and inconsequential as it may be, tells me that you were right when you warned, in ‘Mokoko', against our slavish subservience to western science!

It is said that the heterosexual transmission of HIV is, in particular, a specifically African phenomenon.

Accordingly, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for at least two-thirds of the global incidence of HIV/AID, it is said.

These circumstances suggest to me that, as you write in ‘Mokoko', with regard to "diseases for which we have enormous advantages, prevalence and experiences, the South African doctor (should not) wait for research or solutions about aetiology, modes of presentation and treatment protocols to originate from Europe and America, where ten or twenty patients will have been studied."

Your current position seems to be a repudiation of the intellectual honesty inherent in the paragraph I have just cited. I sincerely hope I am wrong in my observations, in case I am not, I request you to assist me and others like me to understand the sudden change. We would be greatly indebted to you for such enlightenment.

This is important given the pride we held you in as you waged a seemingly principled struggle at the University of the Witwatersrand. In those days many of us saw the author of Mokoko living out our ideals as African people. That is why many of us held you up as a hero, and perhaps that is why we bother at all to engage you on the issues that seem to puzzle us.

My contention is that the President is being vilified merely for asking questions. You seem to be part of those who are calling for his head unless he repents and proffer an apology to western science The irony is that none of those occupying the self appropriated high moral ground have yet produced any evidence to suggest that the President is wrong. They are all refusing or are unable to provide scientific answers to the questions that President Mbeki has posed.

In the book ‘Mokoko' you write:

"The mention of the word Africanisation sends shocks and shivers into the various establishment structures. The word Africanisation has become negatively politicised Politically, it conjures up a déjà vu phenomenon of dictatorships, military coups, the expulsions, exodus of Europeans, Asians and unstable governments; economically, it represents poverty, famines and a mess; in development terms, it reminds one of the total lack of it; in education it brings into focus the lowering of standards, campus thrashing, kidnappings, poor academic scholarship; in health it brings memories of mutilation of bodies, witchcraft and AIDS somewhere in the continent. (My emphasis.) Europeans have found this word, its interpretation and what it embodies uncomfortable. They have decided on its meaning and interpretation from their perspective i.e. provided a Eurocentric meaning and promoted this throughout the world. (p206)

I could not agree more!

In this context, I would like to remind you of the story of the forced removals of Africans from District Six in Cape Town during the Year 1901.

Of District Six, Vivian Bickford-Smith has written:

Its population was drawn from all over the world. By 1900 the largest component was formed by people whom the Cape Government referred to variously as "Malay", "Mixed and Other" or "Coloured"... The District also had large numbers of recent immigrants from Britain, several thousand Jews from Tsarist Russia and several more thousand Mfengu, Gcaleka and Gaika from the Eastern Cape...

A vast range of nationalities were represented in the District, including considerable numbers of Indians, Chinese and Australians."

(Historical Society of Cape Town: CABO 1985, Vol 3, No 4.)

Out of this population drawn from all over the world, the colonial government picked on at least 6000 Africans and forcibly removed the to a place called Uitvlugt, with the township later named Ndabeni.

This was to be followed in 1902 with the passage of the Native Reserve Locations Act which prescribed that Africans resident in Cape Town had to live in their own segregated locations.

Those who do not know would be pardoned if they thought all this had to do with an early expression of the apartheid policies implemented after 1948, which resulted in the ultimate destruction of District Six during the 1950's.

However, the reason for this early forced removal was the fact that in 1901, Cape Town was affected by a serious outbreak of the dreaded bubonic plague!

Here are some excerpts from a letter signed by one H.S., which appeared in the Cape Times of April 3, 1901.

"Sir, - Don't you think the time has arrived when we should take a leaf out of the book the Boers, who, in spite of all their faults, know how to manage the nigger, viz., to prevent them having the monopoly of the pavements and hustling ladies and gentlemen, who, naturally afraid of coming into contact with them during these plague times, prefer giving them a wide berth, leaving the pavement for the street and master nigger monarch of all he surveys? Surely the police, who often direct their energies into the wrong channel, and leave undone what they ought to do, may be ordered to keep undesirables off the pavement, and by doing so arrest the spread of plague from contact...How on earth, even if you keep yourself as clean as possible, can one avoid infection if such things are permitted, (mixing all races in public transport), seeing also that the Dock busses and cabs proceeding townwards from the Docks are crowded with the dirtiest Kafirs in creation? Is this a civilised country or are we living amongst a lot of barbarians? - I am, etc."

You may think that this ‘Letter to the Editor' represented the views of the ‘white lunatic fringe.'

In her 1989 doctoral thesis, ‘Public health and Society in Cape Town:
Elizabeth van Heyningen reports:

"At a special meeting of the Sanitary and Health Committee of the Cape Town City Council (in 1900), Mr Owen Lewis urged that the ‘kafir' population was a source of great danger. Should the plague break out, he predicted, it would probably be in the quarters in which they lived. The Chief Sanitary Inspector, Corben, objected, arguing that there were fewer cases of infectious disease amongst Africans in Cape Town than whites in proportion to their numbers."

She also reports that an eminent British scholar of his day, Professor Simpson, considered African culture to be totally inimical to city life. The learned professor said:

"The natives coming direct from their kraals in the native territories to work in Cape Town, being unused to town life, are unable to adapt themselves to their new conditions and crowd together when permitted, to extraordinary degrees."

In other words, they could not but generate filth and breed disease!

A conference of all the white governments in South Africa was held in Pretoria in 1899 to agree on a co-ordinated response to any outbreak of the plague.

Clause 15 of the agreement reached at the conference stated:

"That as far as possible steps be taken for preventing vagrancy and the unrestrained movements of natives within or from any infected place."

The actual situation however is that the racial breakdown of the plague case in the Cape Peninsula in 1901 was:

Coloured: 380
White : 207
African: 157

And yet the reality is that it was the Africans who were forcibly removed.

The reason for this is perfectly clear - racism!

White South Africa, supported by a British Professor, knew it as a matter of fact that to be African meant that you were obvously and naturally a carrier or the plague!

The April 4, 1901 issue of "Imvo Zabantsundu" carried an article discussing steps that had been taken after a small outbreak of the plague in the King Williamstown area towards the end of 1900.

The correspondent wrote:

"Plague restrictions came into operation in King Williamstown last week. It is a matter of great regret that regulations for the public safety cannot nowadays be carried out without creating a sense of grievance among the Natives. The present writer was, we believe, the first to be turned away from the train under a regulationthat no aboriginal Native or Asiatic should be allowed to travel by rail without a certificate of inoculation and a pass from the Plague Doctor. It will thus be seen that from this the white people are exempted. We have thus yet another illustration of the working of the formula of ‘Equal rights for all civilised men south of the Zambezi.' Of course the poor Natives are quite puzzled why it is that rom them a certificate of inoculation should be exacted even when proceeding to a place three miles out of town, while the wearers of another colour should go scot free...Our people are the more perplexed since the plague is not endemic to this Country. It comes from abroad with ships...The Natives we believe have no objection to be treated as other people, but they demur to be dealt with differently, and that without rhyme or reason."

As Corben, the Cape Town sanitary inspector knew in 1901, we also know that there was no organic relationship whatsoever between the fact of our being African and the outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Yet, despite the brave voices of Corben and others, the disease of racism dictated that white South Africa expel the Africans from central Cape Town, in much the same way as rats were exterminated in central Cape Town to wipe out the plague.

Being an educated person, you will, of course, know that a worse fate befell the Jews when the Black Death (the bubonic plague) hit Europe in the 14th century. Dr E.L. Skip Knox of Bolse State University has written:

"As ever in Europe, when a crisis arose, the Jews were easy targets of blame. They were not the only group accused of poisoning water or practising witchcraft and hence bringing on the plague, but they suffered the anger of mob violence over a wide area. There were massacres, especially in the cities along the Rhine River... On one day in Strasbourg in 1349, nearly 200 Jews were burned to death by an angry mob." (The Black Death.)

Those who carried out theseatrocities were, undoubtedly, most certain about the correctness of their diagnosis that the Jews were the cause of the Black Death. The fact of the matter, however, is that this represented nothing but pure racism, unadulterated anti-Semitism.

I am pretty certain that if, at that time, there had been significant numbers of Africans in Europe, as there are now, their fate would have been no different from that of the Jews and the Gypsies.

Those who attributed the spread of the bubonic plague in Cape Town and elsewhere in the country in 1901 to the Africans, were similarly very certain about the correctness of their diagnosis.

Once again, the fact of the matter was that this represented nothing but pure racism, a continuation of the process of the dehumanisation of the African people.

And so I return to the issue of HIV/AIDS.

You will of course understand that ‘the poor Native' writer of this letter is also quite puzzled as to why, once again, we the Natives are accused of being the biggest global threat to human life, accounting for fully two-thirds of the global incidence of HIV!

With regard to the plague, we were charged with being naturally filthy, natural providers of the suitable habitat for carrier vermin, dangerous agents for the propagation of a killer disease.

As far as I understand it, nobody has charged that HIV thrives in circumstances and because of squalor and unhygienic conditions.

I suppose that this time around we should be grateful that we are not being accused of being naturally filthy and therefore a natural habitat for HIV.

A Kenyan doctor, Dr G.S.N. Wanene has made a point that seems logical to me, a non-scientist. He says:

"There is no compelling scientific reason to make us assume that there are fundamental differences in the performance of heterosexual acts in the West and in developing countries. Heterosexual activity in the West and in Africa is still the same heterosexual activity, and ONLY THE COLOUR OF THE INSTRUMENTS IS DIFFERENT. Sub-Saharan Africa has 10% of the World's population. It therefore has 10% of the World's population. It therefore has 10% of the world's heterosexual activity. It should have roughly 10% of the world's heterosexually spread HIV. Africa has more than 70% of the world's HIV problem. It appears somebody has given Africa the other 60% and wants the Africans and the rest of the blame that EXTRA 60% of Sub-Saharan HIV/AIDS on EXTRA heterosexual spread in Africa." (Wanene's emphases). (HIV/AIDS: The Outside Story)."

Of course, these comments relate to the question that President Mbeki posed to the Scientific Panel on which you serve.

How are we to explain all this - that African heterosexual activity is highly toxic, whereas Western heterosexual activity is perfectly benign!

Or is it that as Africans we are so heterosexually hyperactive that we account for 70% of the world's heterosexual activity!

All this is puzzling to ‘poor Natives' such as the President and I.

Dr Wanene quotes one Negley Farson as having written in "Last Chance in Africa", Seventh Impression, January 1953, p.34:

"Any idea that he (the African) should cut down on his birth rate - us contraceptives for instance - just strikes him as ludicrous... Fornication, the black man seems convinced, I about the only pleasure left to him."

Dr Wanene also quotes our own Field Marshall Smuts has having said:

"The African is the only happy other race is so easily satisfied, so good tempered, so carefree... The African easily forgets past troubles, and does not anticipate future troubles. This happy-go-luck disposition is a great asset, but it also has its draw backs. There is no inward incentive to improvement, there is no persistent effort in construction, and there is complete absorption in the present, its joys and sorrows."

You will of course be familiar with the book, "AIDS, Africa And Racism" written by Richard and Rosalind Chirimuuta. They too provide some very interesting quotations.

They write that various arguments were used to justify slavery.

"Black people were disease ridden, dirty in their habits, uncontrolled in their sexual behaviour, and incapable of higher human values such as honesty or sexual morality," they write. (My emphases.)

"Such views were succinctly expressed by an apologist for racism, Winfred Collins, in a book published in 1918 entitled ‘The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South (In Which the Author Pleads that the South Be Made Safe for the White Race)":

Collins writes: "Two of the Negro's most prominent characteristics are the utter lack of chastity and complete ignorance of veracity. The Negro's sexual laxity, considered so immoral or even criminal in the white man's civilisation, may have been all but a virtue in the habitat of his origin. There, nature developed in him intense sexual passions to offset his high death rate." (My emphases"

The Chirimuuta's also quote a November 1988 edition of the British magazine, The Spectator, as saying, when it addressed the issue of the spread of AIDS among the British heterosexual population:

"But there is another endangered group. To alert or protect them will require still more unfashionable candour than to address the homosexuals. That group is the West Indians. Their men sire their children, and often move on to another partner. Stable families are rarer than among whites, let alone Indians. To talk to West Indians about Aids will require more plain speaking - and risk more cries of ‘racism' - than has been dreamt of in Lord Whitelaw's philosophy. It will be a brave government that will do it in time. But it will probably have to be done in the end."

As you say in "Mokoko", "in health (the word Africanisation) brings memories of mutilation of bodies, withcraft and AIDS somewhere in the continent."

In his book, "The Rise of Christian Europe", the eminent British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper (later Lord Dacre) says:

"Undergraduates, seduced, as always, by the changing breath of journalistic fashion, demand that they should be taught then history of black Africa. Perhaps, in the future, the will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America. And darkness is not a subject for history... (We may) amuse ourselves with the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe... It is European techniques, European examples, European ideas which have shaken the non-European world out of its past - out of barbarism in Africa...and the history of the world, for the last five centuries, in so far as it has significance, has been European history."

Out of Africa, no techniques, no ideas, only darkness and unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes!

Undoubtedly, the learned British historian included among these the heterosexual gyrations of the barbarous black tribes, which activity made them especially prone to HIV infection!

The Chirimuuta's also document the intense effort made by western scientists to provide racist, insulting and anti-African "scientific proof" that HIV originates fro Africa and spread from there to the United States and elsewhere.

For instance, the quote a paper published by The Lancet in April 1983. The paper, written by I.C. Bygbjerg, entitled "AIDS in a Danish Surgeon (Zaire, 1976)" says:

"Little attention has been paid to the hyperendemic focus of KS (Kaposi's Sarcoma) in central there a connection between African and American AIDS/KS; is the underlying cause another deadly, but slow-acting, African virus introduced to America, perhaps via Haiti...?"

Among the many instances they cite they also quote from an article published in the British American Journal on April 27, 1985, "AIDS: the African Connection", written by P. Jenkins et al, which says:

"Further it has been suggested that the agent causing AIDS, currently believed to be HTLV-III, may exist in a stable equilibrium in an African environment but alters its expression in a new population."

In 1983, the Bureau of Epidemiology in Paris stated:

"We suggest that Equatorial Africa is an endemic zone for the supposed infectious agent(s) of this (AIDS) illness."

Not to be outdone, the Swedes L. Morfeldt-Manson and L. Lindquist had their article, "Blood brotherhood: a risk factor for AIDS?" published in The Lancet on December 8, 1984. In the article they write of a Scot who, they say, died of AIDS in 1982. They say:

"On reviewing the history of this patient (who had previously been admitted in a Stockholm hospital), we found that he was interested in anthropology and that he had taken part in ritual interchange of blood with people belonging to remote tribes in East Africa ("blood brotherhood"). He had a Tanzanian girlfriend when living in Tanzania."

The article, "AIDS: an old disease from Africa?", written by Dr Kevin de Cock, was published in the British Medical Journal in August 1984. In this article he says:

"It is suggested that the first Americans with AIDS acquired the condition in the early 1970's in Africa. AIDS is increasingly recognised in Black Africans, and early African cases preceded the first documented American cases by several years."

One of the contributors to the criminally cruel and insulting mythology about AIDS and Africa was none other than the Belgian Professor Piot, currently head of UNAIDS.

He and his colleagues spent 3 weeks studying 38 patients at the Mama Yemo and Kinshasa hospitals in Zaire. Where else would the Belgian scientists go in search of the origins of the plague except their country's former colony, the erstwhile Belgian Congo!

Their article, "Acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome in a heterosexual population in Zaire," based on this study, appeared in The Lancet of July 14, 1984.

To their credit, having noted that a number of the patients suffered from various infectious diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, the authors make the admission that:

"Tuberculosis, protein calorie malnutrition, and various parasitic diseases can all be associated with depression or cellular immunity."

The Chirimuuta's make the seemingly correct observation that "unless such diseases are carefully excluded, depressed cellular immunity could not support a diagnosis of AIDS."

Yet despite all this, Professor Piot and his friends make the following finding:

"Using as the numerator the number of cases of AIDS seen during the three weeks of this investigation and which came from Kinshasa and as a denominator the population of Kinshasa (about 3 million) we estimate (my emphasis) the annual rate to be about 17 per 100,000. If children were excluded from the denominator the rate would even be higher. This is a minimal estimate, and it is comparable with or higher than the rate in San Francisco or New York."

To which the Chirimuuta's comment:

"On the basis of a three week study, with limited diagnostic facilities, an unsound scientific method and a sample of less than 30 patients, Kinshasa's AIDS problem is worse than San Francisco's!"

As you know, sixteen years after the publication of this article in The Lancet, characterised among other things by ‘unsound scientific method', Professor Piot, is now firmly settled in his seat as Chief of UNAIDS.

An international civil servant employed, among other members of the UN, by African states, he continues as to the manner born, to make all sorts of estimates about the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Africa, including the former Belgian colony now called the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The figures which puzzle Dr Wanene as they puzzle this ‘poor Native' come from none other than Professor Piot who started his career as a European sangoma in Africa more than a decade-and-a-half ago.

Let me, for the last time, mention yet another of the articles cited by the Chirimuuta's. This one was, again, published in The Lancet on May 31, 1986.

Written by A.J. Nahmias et al, it is entitled, "Evidence for human infection with an HTLV III/LAV-like virus in Central Africa, 1959." Inter alia it says:

"The place of origin of HTLV-III is controversial but most workers have suggested Africa. Most cogent to the issue has been the isolation of a related virus from the African green monkey, the high incidence of AIDS in many central African countries, and serological evidence for a high prevalence of infection. Because of the importance of this issue we decided to test 1213 (frozen) plasmas, obtained...from various parts of Africa...We have demonstrated that at least one individual from central Africa had been exposed to a virus similar to human HTLV-III more than a quarter of a century ago."

The Chirimuuta's comment:

"Firstly the authors stated that the tests on plasma frozen for many years can give false positive results, secondly only one of 1213 specimens was positive, and thirdly the authors are not even convinced that the individual had actually been exposed to HTLV-III. Yet this much quoted paper proved that AIDS originated in Zaire!"

With regard to the issue of the African green monkey, I would also like to refer you something written by Baron Cuvier, who has been described as "the great naturalist of the early part of the (19th) century."

"This is what he wrote:

"The Negro marked by black complexion, crisped or woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose. The projection of the lower part of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism." (Quoted in: Black Athena, by Martin Bernal.)

It is not difficult to see how those brought up on these prejudices would find it quite easy to trace the passage of a virus from the African green monkey, to the barbaric African who is close to ‘the monkey tribe' and thence to the civilised Westerner, as western science did indeed try to do with regard to HIV.

Naturally, in the face of a new, puzzling, hitherto unknown and terrifying killer plague, where else but in Africa would western science find the cause for the plague, a continent that is so much the home of everything bad and evil which the West claims it could never be!

The western observations we have cited tell me that essentially two factors have made sub-Saharan Africa the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that Professor Piot alleges it is. These are:

  • The western conviction that as Africans including our fauna such as green monkeys, we are inherently and intrinsically diseased: and,
  • The western conviction that we are inherently and intrinsically addicted to hyperactive heterosexual intercourse, compelled by the instinctive African drive for immediate physical gratification.

As Professor Piot and his fellow Belgians did in the article we have quoted, I accept that sub-Saharan Africa is exposed to many things that will result in the immune deficiency of many among us.

But clearly, I cannot and will never accept the virulently racist and anti-African Western propositions reflected under the ‘bullet points' above.

Everything I have seen and heard suggests to me that it was for the same reason that President Mbeki posed the questions he did.

Like him, I am interested not in the propagation of racist ideas and insults but in scientific information that will help us to deal with the AIDS challenge in our country and continent.

I find it deeply perplexing that you, of all people, should have found it necessary to engage the President in hostile polemic rather than respond to his request.

I am perplexed hat an eminent African scientist such as yourself, who fought at Wits University to defend the integrity of African scholarship, should have become such a determined defender of what seems to me to be a grievously dehumanising projection of ourselves as Africans, including yourself.

I was taken by surprise when you took a position contrary to other African scientists such as Dr Wanene and the Chirimuuta's, siple on the basis that western science had spoken.

As you know, there are many other African scientists who have made and are making a significant effort to unravel AIDS as it manifests itself in Africa, even if this has meant going against established western orthodoxy.

By African I do not mean black, but include, as all of us should, white African scientists.

I have in my possession a set of statistics dealing with: "Health statistics in African countries with high (H) and low (L) incidence of AIDS in 1992 and (year ending April) 2000."

Based on figures derived from sentinel surveillance carried out by the WHO, the document is compiled by Barrie Craven PhD, Reader in Economics, Newcastle Business School, University of Northumbria, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK and Gordon Stewart, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the University of Glasgow.

These statistics show that in the year 2000, the mean incidence/100,000 of AIDS stood thus in:

High: 313
Low: 38
South Africa: 30

Thus South Africa falls significantly below the average for the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS.

Of course, Professor Piot tells a radically different story, which I see you are very read to broadcast, seemingly with the greatest enthusiasm.

I notice also that for your efforts, you earn the fervent applause of precisely the same people who were against your election as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, who, as you report in ‘Mokoko', resorted to the most unprincipled ways and means.

Those against whom you now speak with such determination are the same people who fought in many principled ways to have you elected to this position.

You might wish to remember what has been said in the context of warfare, that when the enemy garlands you and sing your praises, it is not because you are inflicting casualties on his or her battalions but because you are concentrating your fire on your own regiments.

But perhaps all of us misunderstood you when you wrote in ‘Mokoko' that:

"The nature of the our reconciliation problem revolves around dealing with the superficial, but totally ignoring the fundamental socio-biological factors that have shaped this society over three and a half centuries. This is the nature of South African reconciliation. It will not provide long lasting solutions to the deep prolonged racial wounds and scars that stretch over generations, almost inherited racially in a Mendelian fashion. There can be no reconciliation by attempting to forget the past. The truth of this past must first be acknowledged. Once this has happened it will provide the foundations of reconciliation...It's the support of the ordinary man that kept and carried me through. Even to this day, long after the event. I can walk tall amongst my people with pride. Many often come and shake my hand, some in disbelief but many, for a job well done."

Among the socio-biological factors that have shaped our society over three and a half centuries are the western scientists who helped to create the psychological dependence that obliged Africans to depend on these western scientists for solutions to problems they were otherwise uniquely positioned to solve.

These are the people who created the ‘Eurocentric African university' which you sought to overthrow and replace with a truly African University.

It is they who created a "scientific" view of the African that made us the very essence of everything despicable in human society and behaviour.

I hope that you will continue to walk tall among your people, with pride, and that they will continue to shake your hand, despite your seeming readiness to embrace and propagate this "science."

Whether this hope is fulfilled depends entirely on you and what you say and do.

As the successors to those who removed the Africans from District Six in 1901 and imposed restrictions on the movements of Africans in King Williamstown in the same year learnt perhaps belatedly, the ‘poor Natives' can both think and act in their own interest.

Even Lord Dacre can no longer sustain the notion that as Africans all that we represent is darkness, which is not a subject for history.

I must suppose that no self-respecting scientist will stand up today to claim that Africa is the home of original sin, in much the same way that it has become difficult to find anybody in our country who supported the system of apartheid.

The changed circumstances oblige the racists to reposition themselves and refashion their weapons. Nevertheless they remain racists.

We all wish that you will feature in the history our own historians will write, as the bold and honest African scientist and intellectual we read of in ‘Mokoko'!

Yours sincerely,


Ngoako Ramatlhodi

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