Mourning Manto

Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang passed away yesterday. While foreign readers might not know who she is (or was), she will be well known to anyone with a connection to South Africa. They will know her as the AIDS-denialist Health Minister who associated with quacks and never lived up to her promise upon taking office that she would roll out ARV treatment to those in need in SA.
Perhaps better still, they will know her for her (in)famous comments that HIV and AIDS should be treated with a diet of garlic, lemons, beetroot and African potato.
Oh, and then there was the legendary interview with John “not always right, but never going to admit it” Robbie on Talk 702 where they spent most of the time discussing how she should be addressed: “I’m not Manto to you!”. 
And how could we forget the liver transplant saga? Did she need it because she was an alcoholic? Did she jump the queue? How did the Sunday Times gain access to her medical records? And should they have published them?

But those who choose to celebrate her death are missing some important points. Perhaps most importantly of all, the fact that she is no longer Health Minister and hasn’t been for well over a year now. So her death doesn’t make any difference to the state of the Health system or the supply of ARV drugs in the country. She had no control over that yesterday, nor does she have any today. Their delight won’t bring those who have died of AIDS on her watch, back.
And indeed, I am still left wondering how much of the rhetoric and denialism came from her, and how much came from Thabo Mbeki. Not that that excuses her complicity, but I believe that during her tenure in the Department of Health, she acted as a shield for what were, at that point, ANC and Government policies.

And there was more to Tshabalala-Msimang than just her last few infamous years. She made sacrifices – and as so many South Africans did – went into exile during Apartheid. She had been a member of the ANC for nearly 50 years and, prior to 1994, worked hard in the struggle, using her medical skills to support Umkhonto weSizwe.

“Comrade Manto dedicated her life to the struggle for justice and democracy in South Africa and she left the country to fight outside the borders of our country for the liberation of her people,” said ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.
“She has given many young ANC cadres guidance over the years and her death has robbed the ANC of a truly committed cadre and stalwart to the transformation agenda of the ANC.”

I am not defending Tshabalala-Msimang’s stance on HIV and AIDS. She could have, should have done more. Someone with her knowledge should have recognised the stupidity of Mbeki’s policies and had the integrity to challenge them or to step down. That there were many complex personal and political reasons why she didn’t is no excuse.
What I am saying is that there was more to this woman than will be remembered:

Tshabalala-Msimang’s contribution to our democracy is huge. We should remember her for that. We should remember that she gave up almost her entire life, put herself in danger, and left her family for the cold Russian winter, in the hopes of making things better for her people. She achieved that, and lived to see a better life for all. For that, we should be grateful. But her legacy is also the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Aids sufferers who could have been saved had her beliefs been different.

I wonder how many people know ALL the facts before they begin their celebrations at her passing.

11 thoughts on “Mourning Manto

  1. A very interesting, thought provoking view on this. I am not politically inclined at all, and was neither celebrating nor mourning her death. I may however, in future, be less critical of those politicians, as I really do know nothing about them.

  2. I totally agree. there was so much more going on than we knew about when it came to her ministry…

    And insulting someone who’s just died and has no way to respond… well that’s just puerile.

  3. HRH > I don’t mind that, as long as mistakes were all they made.

    Cazpi > Thanks. Just that so often (especially in big news stories) people allow their opinions to be determined by whatever is “trendy”. SOmetimes digging a little deeper tells a different story.

    Clive > And completely valueless.

  4. Doesn’t she fit into the same category as Keith when it comes to their deaths. I mean sure, Keiths happened overnight, but that’s where he got it wrong. Old Manto knew doing it slowly was the way to go 😛

    But yes, whatever. You know me, I couldn’t really be bothered and am still wondering why everyone is being oh so serious about the whole thing.

    Although, I think this whole ‘never speak ill of the dead’ nonsense needs to bugger off. If you were a complete git in life, your death does not suddenly make you a lovely person. If that were true we would only have complimentary things to say about Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini and and and…you know they all have something in common with Manto…were trying to do something for their people….just didn’t do it in the best way possible 😉
    .-= Tara´s last blog ..‘Tis the season and all =-.

  5. Wenchy > It’s cool to hate Manto. And I can see why. But trendy viewpoints are often rather polarised.

    Tara > Woo. Long comment. Nowt else to do? 😉
    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Just that celebrating her death is gratuitous and tasteless. And that one should have all the facts before we go hell for leather and slate the woman because she only ever did harm.

  6. It’s work avoidance 😉

    Oh yes, that wasn’t aimed at you. Just general moaners and groaners around the interwebs thinking a decaying corpse makes you a saint.

    Maybe it’s something to do with that religion thing I hear so much about. *ponder*
    .-= Tara´s last blog ..‘Tis the season and all =-.

  7. Tara > Work avoidance is to be commended.

    Ah – got you now. I do agree. The whole “Gareth Cliff must be shot” brigade missed that memo though. And he missed the point. Apparently he blogged about it, but I am actually too busy to read it right now.

  8. Unfortunately, when you are in the public eye, you are seldom remembered for the things you did right. Scandal trumps charity and achievements almost every time. Just look at Tiger’s woes. 10years as one of the best golfers in the world, undone but a juicy sex scandal. Look at Michael Jackson. His music is maybe 10th on the list of things you know about him, after his weird antics including dangling babies off balconies etc.
    Unfortunately when you take on a public role, you are judged by the public. And the public LOVES to see when you mess up. I was vehemently against her AIDS policies and beliefs, I think she set SA back in an enormous way through her actions, but we are making up for it. Slowly.

  9. Tara > Agreed, but I think you have to balance that against where we would be if it were not for the role people like Manto played in getting rid of Apartheid. And yes, SA is slowly making progress against HIV now, but there would be none of the overseas funding coming in if we were still under a pre-94 regime.

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