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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

28 Sep 1999: Motlana, Nthato

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NM      beginning to see his constitution. It makes it very difficult to get a conviction over any damn thing. We've got a problem.

POM     Would you see, it's one these undercurrents that have been there and is always denied, but that the increasing ideological gaps between the ANC, like Mbeki's stand with the Public Service Unions -

NM     Like GEAR and so on.

POM     - have drawn a line in the sand? This was the final offer, negotiations over. He's sending a message to COSATU that if you pursue industrial action every time there's disagreement over what should be an equitable wage award we're going to combat you, the days of indulgence are over. And he's saying to the SACP, your theory is beautiful but if we want jobs we have to keep our labour costs down and that the unemployed have a right too and every time an employed person, black or white, who is employed, who has a job, who can make ends meet, who can take food home to his family, every time he gets an increase in his wages he's making it more difficult for an unemployed person to get a job. So what are the rights of the unemployed?

NM     That kind of message is so obvious but it never filtered through to Tito Mboweni when he was Minister of Labour or when he was a member of COSATU. Fortunately, the fortunate thing I always say is what happened when Gorbachev rubbished Marxism/Leninism, a lot of our guys who are in the Communist Party are not communists and it was fashionable to belong to the Communist Party. It permitted you go to Russia with money raised by Joe Slovo and Ruth First, you go to Russia. But really, I don't think that there are genuine communists, nor was Stalin a communist really. He lived like a bloody lord in Russia with all those beautiful dachas and so on. But I don't think they are communists really, and fortunately a lot of them are going into the private sector. A lot of former unionists, the guy who used to give me problems when I was with the Lesedi Clinic in Soweto was Philip Dexter who was then the Secretary General of NEHAWU. Today he's chairman of Union Alliance Holdings, a private sector company that is doing very well thank you. Many of them are going into business, so we haven't got that kind of problem. What they need to do is take the message down to their membership, like teachers, and say if you can't make do on R2500 a month you don't need more money, you need to cut down costs, do what Iacocca did with the Chrysler workers. You take a cut and reduce down. You know the story.

POM     I have it. There's another matter that we discussed a little the last time but I'd like to hear you expound on it more. We just came from the AIDS conference in Lusaka and I have spent part of my life very active as the editor of a public policy journal that my university puts out pursuing issues related to AIDS, and I'm doing a special international issue on AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa on the social and economic consequences. Now in the last two weeks I have talked to a number of people here, senior people, and I asked them what is the country's number one challenge in the next ten years and none of them have ever mentioned AIDS. It's either jobs or it's this or it's crime or whatever and then I will say, why shouldn't it be AIDS? 1500 people a day are being infected, you have the greatest increase in infection increasing in SA quicker than any country in the world. It will reduce life expectancy by 15 20 years by the year 2010 and one could go on and say how it will skew the whole economic base, why would you invest in skills training if half the people you are training are going to be dead of AIDS in 10 years? 45,000 teachers will die over the next ten years, there will be a teacher shortage.

NM     What is their response to that?

POM     Their response is first of all silence and then saying, well you must train the people.  They go into education, giving out condoms and AIDS awareness programmes, all of which have not worked any place in the world. There's just piles of evidence to show that handing out condoms is a waste of money in a way, so is doing T-shirts. So it's been a very non-responsive, evasive kind of non thought-out reply. The impression you get is that when the NEC meets that no-one says look at what AIDS is doing to the country and if we don't watch it we're going to have no country to govern in 15 years, now this we must deal with. We must have long term strategies in place, or they say that it's a regional problem and we need outside resources or it's the fault of United States companies who won't make drugs available, forgetting the fact that even if drugs were available at lower cost that those drugs (a) might not be suitable, (b) that drugs have to be taken according to a certain regimen, (c) that people have to be trained to follow that regimen on a daily basis and keep it up day after day after day. In the circles you move in as a doctor and as a businessman, how often does the subject come up that, "Gee, we're really looking at the wrong thing. Crime we'll get under control, we can train the policemen ultimately and get them out there. We can get them more literate, we can do this, we can do that. It might take us five or six years to do so but we can do something concrete." Where does AIDS fit? Where does it come up here in your circles in terms of when people talk about the challenges facing the country?

NM     There are two subjects about which I am very, very passionate. One is the NAIL story, the other is AIDS. About two years ago I was asked to chair the Business Council on AIDS. A month ago I resigned in absolute anger. I went to a seminar in Pretoria addressed by our Director General of Health, Dr Ntsali, and our Chief Director of AIDS education, Dr Nono Simelela, and Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Minister of Health, was there. I listened to bright young things, mostly white journalists, NGO so-called activists, talk absolute rot. In the end I stood up and I said, "Minister, I am sick and tired of this shadow-boxing while people are dying. I'm resigning forthwith." I cannot stand the idea that AIDS has become a human rights thing and not a health issue. It's all about confidentiality, about disclosure, about how one friend of mine who is homosexual and has just admitted that he is HIV positive, he helped write the laws on disclosure and all that kind of crap. I said to everybody, I've been saying publicly, that unless we begin to notify AIDS, and I speak as a doctor, that unless you notify and know who is HIV positive - AIDS unfortunately reached SA as a homosexual disease among white airline pilots and when they started dying my patients said to me, AIDS is a white man's disease, and I have been battling over the years to say to blacks that it is now a heterosexual disease which is killing blacks.

POM     So when blacks die here from AIDS what do they think they're dying from?

NM     I have a daughter who is a doctor. She is working at Pretoria Academic Hospital. Nobody dies of AIDS. The doctors are not supposed to write a death certificate that says HIV complications. They write pneumonia. We are still in a stage of non-disclosure, nobody dies of AIDS, and I've been saying to everybody who cares to listen, until and unless we begin to admit that so-and-so next door died of AIDS we really have no influence on other people who haven't heard that anybody has died of AIDS. My own attitude, for what it is worth, is that we must start testing, if possible test the whole bloody population, you employ people here you test them, people going into the army you test them, going into the police force you test them, because if the CD count is over 3000 that man can continue to be employed. If the CD count drops to below 500 that man is going to have complications of AIDS. Given the drugs that we have we can keep that man now, as you say, healthy, you can push up the CD count to keep that man working. I am on the Rand Water Board and we are beginning to lose technicians and workers, mainly black, almost entirely black, on whom we have spent lots and lots of money to train them as electricians and so on, who are beginning to die and we refused to acknowledge that they are dying of AIDS. It makes me sick.

     Just before I came here I had a telephone call where somebody is asking me to come and facilitate an AIDS conference in February and I said I'm not interested. Until we get our government to embark on effective education, on notification, on knowing the extent of the AIDS epidemic we don't know the extent of the AIDS epidemic. I mean figures that you quote about 1500 infections a day, it's guesswork. I want to see the people tested and I always tell a story of TB. When I started practice 40 years ago the scourge in this country was TB. The government then embarked upon mass radiography, they sent vans all over the country to check on the extent of the epidemic. We got to know in SA who had TB and who hadn't TB and we then said if your sputum is positive, if they had a lesion we tested your sputum. If your sputum is positive you are dangerous, you're infectious, we're putting you in a sanatorium, we give you streptomycin, INH for a week. You become sputum negative, you go back to work. We tell your employer that this man has a lesion of TB but he's no longer sputum positive, therefore he's not infectious, he can continue working. We advise you, please don't overwork him, food, the family, everybody is involved and counselling is on. We can't do it with AIDS because if you go to a doctor today and the doctor suspects AIDS, takes your blood and it comes back HIV positive, by law he may not tell the employer that that employee of yours has AIDS. I argue that how does the employer advise this guy, how does he counsel him about sex behaviour, about food?

POM     He can't even tell his wife.

NM     He can't tell anybody. By law I get so sick. In fact I spoke to my son last night, my son is in New Jersey. He's married to a Ugandan young woman. Our Minister of Health has just returned from Uganda to come and learn what Uganda is doing. She has not publicly reported to us, to me as a taxpayer, what she has learnt. She is quiet. I want to go there myself and I just said to my daughter-in-law who comes from Uganda, tell me about who to see, Minister of Health and so on, and I want to ring them and go to the embassy and go there because I want to know because this Minister, Tshabalala Manto, is not telling me. She told me before she left for Uganda, she told the nation, but she has not told us what she learnt and how we can apply the lessons of Uganda and Thailand. One other country I want to visit on my own, at my own expense, is Thailand because they have been very successful in stabilising the rate.

     There was a little function at the Indaba Hotel nearby where NAIL was given a prize for entrepreneurship and all manner of things and Jeff Radebe, the Minister of something, came to speak and he made a beautiful speech, never once referring to AIDS. At the end of the speech I went to him and I said, "Jeff, you forgot something very important, AIDS." And I thought of telling the ministers that in Uganda no minister is allowed to make a speech without ever referring to AIDS. Here we don't. I went to government buildings, I look around the walls for posters on AIDS nothing. It's like SA hasn't got any bloody pandemic. Nobody talks about it.

POM     What about, again, Mbeki launched, I think next October 9th will be the first anniversary, the Partnership Against AIDS; again, was this kind of one more example of we'll call a summit, we bring all these people together, they will all make the right speeches and then back?

NM     I tell you it's frightening. We at NAIL own the largest circulating daily paper in SA. It's called The Sowetan. I've gone to The Sowetan and said to Aggrey Klaaste, "Aggrey, I want you over this masthead to put something in a newspaper, your journalists must work for it. Every day I want you to put something there that refers to AIDS." I went to SABC and I said to them I had seen an IBM advert, what you call subliminal advertising, you're at a football match and at the top there IBM, IBM, IBM. You don't think that you're looking at this so it doesn't cost you much. I said let's do it.

     We've got one young man called Molefe Mokhatle who is as passionate about AIDS as I am. You must go and speak to him.

POM     Where is he?

NM     At SABC, he's in charge of SABC Television, very bright young man but very worried. Clearly he has not been able to influence the big boys at SABC to do something. I even got a video from our Australian Ambassador, I forget his name now. The Australian Ambassador is talking about a video that Australia produced which was so wonderful, so effective that they flighted it on their television for weeks and I think he got a copy for our television. I haven't seen it. Our people, the national radio, I mean you spend a whole week without hearing one reference to AIDS on radio, on television, on newspapers, nothing. I'm a lone voice, nobody listens to me.

POM     Do you think that President Mbeki will prioritise it or that his commitment the theme that came out of Lusaka was the overriding lack of political leadership and commitment to tackle this problem head on, jointly, seeing it as a regional problem and according it priority status at SADEC meetings or whatever. You get all these leaders who come together to make peace in the Congo, yet in all wars last year I think in Africa 200,000 people were killed. Two million people died of AIDS. In Lusaka not a single head of state turned up. President Chiluba didn't open the conference, he was supposed to. On the very day the conference opened his own Local Government minister had been flown home from the Morningside Clinic in Johannesburg, his arrival was shrouded in mystery and he was dead. He was whisked off to his home and there was a blackout on any news about him and it wasn't till I got back here that we found that what he had died of was AIDS. Chiluba could have gone before that conference and said - one of my closest friends, one of the people who I would pick to succeed, succumbed at 49 to AIDS. It affects the best, the brightest, the rich, the poor, whatever. What a powerful opportunity.

NM     It affects the powerful men in Africa, the guys who go and buy a BMW. But the worst thing about Zambia is that when the UN something published figures about the state of affairs in Zambia, they said the figures are wrong and they published all new fake figures about the extent of the pandemic. It is awful but you're quite right, our guys here have not the first criticism I heard about this country came from the US Secretary for Health, Professor Louis Sullivan, Dean of the Medical School, Morehouse, Atlanta, who visited this country when he was in the Bush or Reagan administration, he came and slept in my house in Soweto, I always boast about the one cabinet minister who slept in my humble home. He said he had taken a swing round Africa, he had been to Malawi, to Uganda, to Mozambique, poor countries who given their resources were doing a better job than SA. I have met Museveni three times now, when I was Mr Mandela's medic, and he is convinced that this country's political leaders are useless in the fight against AIDS, and I've told them this. I have not spoken to Mbeki but I told Mandela, each time Museveni criticised him and his government I would phone Mandela and tell him. I've told all the ministers, I've told Zuma, told Manto Tshabalala the new one.

POM     What was Mandela's response when you said this directly to him?

NM     I said it directly to him, not once but many times.

POM     What's his response?

NM     I don't remember.

POM     Obviously it had no effect.

NM     Nothing. I said to Jeff Radebe, "Jeff you made a mistake, you didn't refer to AIDS", he didn't register. He said, "I'm supposed to have said something about AIDS?" I don't think these guys are aware of the bloody urgent need to do something. The new Minister, Manto Tshabalala, is a very nice girl but she's not seized by the problem. Once I was speaker at this she thinks I'm a bit crazy.

     My daughter, young Dr Motlana, says to me, "Father, please stop worrying, this is God's way of reducing the population."  I said to her, "Maybe you're right but this God of yours is targeting the wrong population group." The people who are dying are the people who in Zambia it's their Permanent Secretaries who are dying. Can we wrap up?

POM     Yes. I would love to talk to you more and might even try to do so. Where will you be contactable in the future.

NM     You've got my new number?

POM     I'm going to have Peter de Beer fax you  the chap who began with a single plant and now employs about five people.

NM     He and I have got something in common. Peter de Beer.

POM     He talks like yourself too.

NM     Oh I'm investing in land now, in tunnels and things.

POM     I'll be seeing him in a couple of weeks and I'll tell him to call you directly. So you remember the name.

NM     I don't remember anything but I'll write it down.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.