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Pieter-Dirk Uys

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Time to Go, Mr President!

SA faces genocide — and world traveller Thabo Mbeki and his health minister are guilty

– Pieter-Dirk Uys, YOU, 6 March 2003


Pieter-Dirk Uys is the hell in.


Never mind the weapons of mass destruction that could wipe out people in Iraq, he says.  South Africa has its own such weapon — HIV/Aids.  And it’s harboured by SA’s president and minister of health.


People are dying because of government carelessness and political negligence.  President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang should be hauled before the International Court of Justice in The Hague on charges of genocide.


So writes a furious — and this time deadly serious — Pietr-Dirk Uys in an email sent to President Mbeki and Minister Tshabalala-Msimang.


The government reacted by saying:  “South Africa is a free country and all citizens, including Uys, enjoy freedom of speech. While we are convinced that there are limits to satire, we do recognise Uys’ right to overstate matters and respond flippantly to serious issues.”


That’s when Pieter-Dirk really lost it, as he makes clear in this piece written exclusively for YOU.


There were many other reactions. My favourite e-mail simply said:  "Pieter-Dirk Uys, yislaaik, are you mad?"


Yes. Mad as hell! But not as insane as those who think there are limits to satire!


Genocide is a terrible accusation. It means the systematic, planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political or ethnic group. The word ‘genocide’ is mainly associated with the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews, gays, gypsies and others during World War 2. More recent examples that we watched on the TV news while eating supper happened in Burundi and Rwanda. Kosovo and Serbia also had their share of planned murder. But does genocide always have to be at the end of a machine gun? Do we have to kill 6 million and ONE people to be worse than the Nazis?


When President Mbeki took over our democratic reigns of power from Nelson Mandela, Comrade Thabo wore the red AIDS ribbon. Many celebrated the proof that the new South African leadership would focus on what had without doubt become the most serious threat to our nation: the virus known as HIV and the resulting decline of health through disease called Aids.


But in the four years that followed the 1999 Election, the leadership of South Africa has virtually denied the existence of our present third world war. At every opportunity the president, his advisors and especially his minister of health have downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.  Thousands are dying.


The anger in South Africa is growing on every level, from business to suburbs. But it’s where the ground has been freshly dug and the crosses crowd into small cemeteries that the reality strikes home.


Mothers are losing children to a disease that bears only stigma — no name or recognition. Sons and daughters have lost their parents. Politicians are dying of ‘backache’ and ‘lung problems’. If Rock Hudson and Freddy Mercury had been members of the ANC they would have also died of ‘natural causes’.


Denial at the highest level that HIV/AIDS is the most serious assault on our future leads to even more deaths.


The president’s version of what he regards as the reasons for AIDS — poverty, TB, racism, yellow flowers and sticky biscuits — are repeated so often and given so much credence that the fear and suspicion lead to the rape of babies and the killing of suspected sufferers of the “slimming sickness”.


And what does the president say when a two-month-old baby is raped by a man who thinks it will cure him, does the president says anything?


Nothing.


He flies around the globe in his Ama-Aeroplane like Supermouse, trying to solve the problems of the First World, auditioning for the part of Kofi Anan. He pops into South Africa occasionally on a state visit and shows how much he dislikes us by ignoring us. He confuses us even more with details of an African Renaissance, an African Union, and a Nepad, diverting the attention from the battlefields of fear.


The national comprehensive strategy is starting to look like a systematic, planned extermination of an entire group of South Africans: those who are poor! The new apartheid has already established itself. Black and white South Africans with money will live. Those without money will have no access to medicines . They will die.


Genocide 2003.


We’ve all heard of the pandemic. Many of us know people who are HIV-positive. Some of us have lost loved ones to AIDS. Many among us carry the virus. Everyone thinks it inevitably leads to death. They’re wrong.


There is life after HIV and there is a future with Aids. It is part of life, not death. There is treatment and help available to everyone who needs it. But the first step is to acknowledge the existence of the disease.


How can Thabo Mbeki and Manto T-M be guilty of genocide? They’re not firing guns as in Burundi, or building gas ovens as in Auschwitz.  Simple.  If people depend on government for leadership and don’t get it, and die unnecessarily, it’s as criminal as firing machine guns into a crowd.


Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.


Happily there is much good will in our country. Zackie Achmat and the TAC speak with strong moral authority when they demand the right to medication for those who need it. Judge Edwin Cameron and thousands of others live with Aids as examples of survival and courage. Patricia de Lille has risen above party politics to embrace the struggle against HIV/Aids as a new chapter in her commitment to defend democracy.


All the statistics point to the loss of up to half the population of Africa in 10 years. If 40% of the work force is HIV-positive, investment will not happen. More than 60 per cent of the continent’s soldiers carry the virus.  A quarter of all first-year university students test positive.


And still the minister of health, challenges the facts. Instead she says things that any comedian would envy. First she said South Africa can’t afford the cost of treatment because we had to buy submarines to ward off a US invasion. More recently she asked why Aids should  be regarded as more important than asthma. I she speaking on behalf of the president?


In the past two years I visited 250 schools and met 500,000 young South Africans. I told them if you laugh at fear it becomes less fearful. And because Aids is spread by sex, words’ like “fuck” and “naai” are used when you discuss it.


Some parents have complained, a few teachers have been offended, churches have frowned and government has remained silent. But not the children.  They want to talk!


“I appreciated how you did not treat us like stupid kids, but as equals,” a Grade 11 girl wrote.  “Your performance was brilliant.  You showed us the reality, but didn’t scare us. Instead you made us more aware, brave and determined to go out and survive!”


If we can keep our youth alive, we will be the greatest country in the world. But that means keeping them alive now!


Remember, we survived apartheid, the first virus. We were told democracy is too good to share with just anyone. So we went through 40 years in the political wilderness because we believed our leaders. They were wrong: democracy is the only solution. And thanks to the freedoms we all enjoy now we can all make our voices heard.


But Aids isn’t politics. It’s health. And safe sex is not about morality; it’s about hygiene. It’s like brushing our teeth. If we don’t protect ourselves,we’ll get sick! And the only way we will take control of our lives is by talking about our fear. By focusing on surviving a virus, not by denying it’s existence.


Do I want to put the entire South African government in the dock at The Hague? Of course not!


We’re here today thanks to the generosity of the so-called former enemies of South Africa. These men and women came out of their prison cells and returned from exile to allow us all a second chance.


There are excellent people in government, especially in the Department of Health. But without leadership they can’t meet the needs of the people.


But let us be fair to our president and his grand ambitions elsewhere in the world and also to the people of this country. Let Thabo go! Let him and Manto run the United Nations and let’s find a president who cares for us and a minister of health who heals and embraces us.


Then we’ll all realise that as a weapon of mass destruction HIV/Aids can be disarmed without fear by confronting it with information and knowledge and by allowing us our humanity, compassion and humour.


There’s always that final solution. Not the International Court in the Hague. The ballot box on election day 2004.


You decide who you want to be in charge.


Vuk’uzenzele!  Arise and act!



See also related items, including Letters to the Editor, in Miscellany 2003

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