#45. Wonder how Dr Potatohead can justify staying in Parliament when more able Cabinet ministers are taking a principled decision to step down. There’s nothing to do but join fellow bloggers on Minor Matters, The Hunter Gatherer and Pattern Recognition in marvelling over how – while the country is left reeling from today’s announcement that 11 members of former President Thabo Mbeki’s Cabinet have resigned – Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (in her signature style) has decided to not do anything to improve the situation.
One of the saddest aspects of Thabo Mbeki’s rule was the unwillingness of his Cabinet members to speak out on the issue of HIV/AIDS and to challenge the President’s strange ideas. An absence of compassion became the official response from people who should have known better. Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was more than just a loyal foot soldier in that dirty war.
I still can’t figure out why though. When Manto was first appointed, I was working as the health reporter for Sunday Times. Just weeks after that I was allowed to accompany her and a ministerial delegation to Uganda on a “fact-finding mission” to see how that country was managing to turn back the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was early days and Tshabalala-Msimang was filled with purpose. By the end of the trip – to clinics and churches, research institutes, NGO’s and government departments – she was declaring with confidence that this thing could be beaten and that it had to be, as a matter of urgency.
But a few months later Thabo Mbeki would stand up in Parliament and question the link between HIV and AIDS and set in motion a series of events so bizarre, it still hurts my head to think about them. And so the health minister unravelled, becoming unrecognisable in her speech and actions, awaking the Frankenmanto inside her.
And it has never gone away.
Still it seems unjust that she refuses to be the silver lining in the dark cloud that is the nastiest fight in the history of contemporary South African politics. Please Manto, if not for the nation’s health, resign for yours.