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Pieter-Dirk Uys

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OPINION: Don't Allow AIDS to Succeed Where Apartheid Failed

Whatever has been discussed during the past few days will mean nothing until the HIV/Aids genocide is addressed as a war against terror.  Pieter-Dirk Uys questions whether anyone really cares

– Pieter-Dirk Uys, Sunday Times , 1 September 2002

To all the visitors in South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), welcome. If you haven't been robbed, ripped off or bored to death by the proceedings, you will agree that we live in the most beautiful country on Earth and one worth sustaining.

We are a most extraordinary people. We have the greatest Constitution in the world. We have a democratic Bill of Rights. We had an extraordinary Truth Commission. We still have Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. And what does the rest of the world have as inspiration? That son of a Bush and Tony Blaaaah?

And on top of everything, we in South Africa have the greatest incidence of HIV/Aids in the world.

While the First World has been burying its lambs, we in the Third World are burying our babies. There is no cure for HIV/Aids — no vaccine or pill. There is just care.Does anyone really care? The summit has churned on for the past week about the pollution, the warming and the cooling, the wetting and the drying. But how can growth be sustained when the people within earshot of all the good intentions are dying?

The summit started well, with former Minister of Health, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stating categorically and at last that HIV leads to Aids. The present Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has to date refused to say either yes or no to that question.

The Deputy President Jacob Zuma refuses to discuss aspects of sex, including oral sex, because they are "unnatural". And in his speech to open the summit, President Thabo Mbeki didn't even mention our Third World war.

HIV/Aids is the worst thing to happen to Africa, which has had its share of horrors — colonialism, famine, corruption, war and exploitation. South Africa survived the dark ages of apartheid, thanks to the compassion and humour shown by the leaders of our new democracy since 1994. When Mbeki focused on the global apartheid of rich and poor, he forgot to mention being party to the creation of a new apartheid in South Africa today — between those who can afford drugs and treatment for HIV/Aids and those who can't. Because of his government's carelessness, the "have-nots" will die. Whatever has been discussed and structured during the past few days will mean nothing until the HIV/Aids genocide is addressed as a war against terror.

How long are we going to allow the people of South Africa to die of this virus — our President in denial, a deputy president who won't talk and a minister of health who can't talk? And so it is to our visitors that we look with desperate hope.

There are a few days left for the summit to turn around what will otherwise become an inevitable human holocaust. We seek champions who will stand up as beacons of hope to the millions of frightened people who are sick and the millions of people who are terrified of becoming sick.

Urban legends are taking root simply because there is no firm and committed leadership. Men are raping girls in the desperate hope that the act will cure them of the disease. Safe sex is being rejected because of the fear that "white racists" put the virus in the tips of condoms. Indian and white doctors are shunned by black people who won't go for a blood test as they have heard the virus is then injected back into them to make them ill.

The only way these terrible myths can be debunked is by people of stature.

When Princess Diana visited a hospital in the 1980s, when we were all so frightened of this "thing" that had killed the actor Rock Hudson and so many more, she embraced a man obviously dying of HIV/Aids and held him with love and care.

If Princess Diana were alive today, she would be here in Johannesburg, focusing the summit's attention on the future of condemned children.

Development! If we are to encourage young people to understand that the safest sex is no sex, we must also respect them enough to prepare for the eventuality that sex will happen. If condoms are the only protection against infection, then condoms must be made a normal part of our survival.

The churches must back off with their useless advice to abstain, to pray and to trust.

Businesses must focus on the needs of their workers to be able to confide their fears. Corporate companies must make HIV/Aids the focus for their future success.

There will be no sustainable development in South Africa until we are assured that HIV/Aids is a life sentence, not a death sentence.

It is very significant that we have in Johannesburg today so many people of conscience. Delegates must realise what a responsibility rests on their shoulders. They must demand transparency and insist that the silence be broken and HIV/Aids be regarded as the most important issue of the day.

Because if HIV/Aids is marginalised during this World Summit, everyone who takes part will have to come to terms with the terrible realisation that they were responsible for allowing HIV/Aids to succeed where apartheid failed.

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