Sunday, August 19, 2007

A thief and a drunk, or just a sad victim of tabloids?

I feel torn about the explosive story in the Sunday Times this morning that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang is "a drunkard and a thief". I have to admit (rather shamefully) that on one level it gives me great pleasure to see what was left of the Minister's reputation destroyed by the newspaper.


Tshabalala Msimang's management of HIV/AIDS has been so arrogant, so criminally negligent, so maddeningly wrong, that it is difficult not to lay at least some blame for the unavoidable death of hundreds of thousands of South Africans from AIDS related illnesses at her door. Reading the article in the Sunday Times thus gives as much satisfaction as seeing the baddies in a Nazi movie kicked in the balls.

But of course, our Health Minister is a real person of flesh and blood - not a character in a movie. She has a family whose members have probably suffered greatly because of her alcoholism and tantrums. I therefore wonder whether the newspaper had not gone too far in invading her privacy by revealing that she was an alcoholic and that she had been convicted of theft more than 30 years ago.

Is this not a prime example of a new kind of dangerous tabloid journalism that will make the private lives of public persons fair game - no matter how intimate and personal the information? Do we really need to know these things? Will it make our democracy stronger and better?

One may of course argue that we have defamation laws and if the Minister wants to restore her credibility she should sue the Sunday Times. But it seems pretty certain that the reports are at least partly true, so a defamation action - even if successful - would not restore her credibility. On the contrary, a defamation action will probably be disastrous for her because the newspaper will be able to present witness after witness to tell lurid stories of our drunk as a skunk Minister.

Yet - the sensational headline aside - on balance I think the newspaper was justified to publish the story. The fact that the Minister is an alcoholic and drank like a fish is not relevant on its own, but it does become relevant against the background of her liver transplant and questions about whether she jumped the queue. The fact that she was convicted of theft might also seem besides the point until one realises that it could show a pattern of dishonesty on her part.

This story is relevant and important because at its heart it is about an incompetent and dishonest Minister who abused her power to obtain a new liver that could have saved the live of a more deserving patient. If true, the allegations would show that the Minister had abused her power in a most disturbing and illegal way to save her own life, in the process depriving another person of life-saving medical treatment.

It would also prove that the Minister has a history of dishonesty - stealing items from her very own patients for goodness sake - and that her queue jumping was therefore part of a long standing pattern of breaking rules. Obviously if true, her continued presence in the cabinet has become a national scandal.

The only way to clear her name is through defamation action, but as I pointed out above, she could only afford to do this if the allegations were false. I she thus fails to institute a defamation action, the President would be obliged to fire her. But of course he won't. And that is a national scandal all of its own.

15 comments:

Hermann Hanekom said...

Hoƫ bome sal en moet altyd slegte wind vang ... as dit die bome is wat die wins blaas ... hight trees will always catch the evil wind, especially if the high tree blows that evil wind itself ... bravo to the Sunday Times .. if you want to be in public life make sure the sheat of your history is clean or else somewhere along the route you will end up in the sheat.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it is sad to see a person shamed in this manner. Only a person with the heart of a crocodile would fail to feel sorry for her as these skeletons come tumbling drunkenly out of the closet. But we are not dealing with any old Joe Soap: this is a servant of the people, an acting minister of a democratically elected government. She was put in charge of what is arguably the most important ministerial portfolio: halting a devastating epidemic the likes of which the world has never seen. She failed. If it weren't for her disastrous policies, and her shocking failure to roll out antiretroviral treatment, thousands of children who are in their graves now would still be alive.

THE DICTATOR / EMBITTERED CORRESPONDENT said...

Mbeki writes on the ANC website about The Sunday Times allegations re Manto:
“Equally, others are unhappy that, contrary to the predictions of the doomsayers about African countries, we have managed the transition from white minority rule to non-racial, democratic rule as well as we have, thus making the statement in practice that cannot be disproved with facts, that categorically, there exists no genetic fault that condemns Africa and Africans forever to be defined as a failed continent and civilisatio.”
Is this all about about an inferiority complex ? If it is, then it is very very scary stuff !

Toby said...

What shocked me most was that I did not feel any sympathy for her. That makes me sound bad, right?

Yet still, I don't feel sympathy for someone who has allowed so many people to die; who has embarrassed our country over and over again; who has failed to listen to the voices of reason simply because she doesn't want to admit being wrong.

This is a woman who is allowing babies to die - babies! - because she doesn't want to lose face.

I'm sorry, if it makes me a monster to get some pleasure out of her "outing", then it's a hat I wear gladly.

I'm just so weary of trying to defend SA and it's positive points to my friends overseas because when it comes to Manto and her beliefs, what do you say? And then still try to justify why the president supports her? It's just too much.

When will the madness stop?

Marcus said...

At parliament today, the DA moved a substantive motion of motion no confidence in the Minister for Health. If she refuses to resign, they will ask President Mbeki to fire her. However Parliament has it within its power to fire the Minister: if passed, a motion of no confidence in the cabinet excluding the President would force her (and the rest of the Cabinet) to resign. To be successful the DA would require a majority of the members of the National Assembly to vote with it. An unlikely scenario, given that ANC members are as yet unlikely even to threaten to use this power. But it does mean that they are just as culpable as Dr Tshabala-Msimang for not doing what they can.

EZASEKASI said...

Bafowethu i beg to differ. You see i know that we are approaching this in an objective fashion. However, we should not treat the issues in issolation there is something very sad in this attacks that is bringing me very close to tears as a black person lapha eMzansi. Firstly, you guys are overlooking the issue of nutrition. I would love to know how effective is medication when you barely have something to eat. This is reality not created, this is how we live as blacks (please dont feel sory, rather stop taking an arm chiar approach) knowing where the next meal is going to come from, yet infected with the HIV virus. Yet there are people crucifying the minister for slow role outs, etc. She has been tagged dr. beetroot by those Europeans and Americans who dont need to worry about a next meal let alone nurtition. They are the leaders in medical scientific research. Yet they dont tell us the consequences inherent in this antiretrovirals, nevarapine, etc that yourselves as S.A. citizens are chanting for. If you did not know if using the above, such a child runs the risk of never reaching his/her full potential amongst other things. Better even i suppose they did not know. Lastly with the uproar you guys are causing one will believe this is the cure. MOCHA

Pierre de Vos said...

All available medical evidence suggests that taking anti-retrovirals when medically indicated will prolong a persons life. Eating beetroot will not have the same effect. The Minister has often said South African should have a choice between the two: the "choice" to die or the "choice" to life. By propagating this false choice she has contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. If she had merely said that nutrition was important and had pointed out that poor people without access to the relevant food were more likely to succumb to HIV more quickly without medical intervention, we would all have applauded her. She has not done so but has misled the people to make decisions that would kill them. I feel sorry for all the people and their families who were thus misled rather than for the Minister. Don't you,Ezasekasi, feel the same sadness for all those people killed and is your sympathy for the Minister therefore not grossly misplaced?

Anonymous said...

It's all a question of diet and to supplement that recommended by the colourful Minister, fish comes to mind, Herring, definitely red. Her drunk and disorderly behaviour in hospital, public, and private is a matter of legitimate public ineterest. Her previous convition for theft, may be prejudical and inadmissible to prove guilt in a criminal trial but are perfectly valid in the court of public opinion.And the liverage that must have been used ... (excuse the pun). Do not pay to much attention to the phrase "democratically elected" when it comes to the bedfellowes of Gadaffy and Castro and Mugabe. Unblishingly, quoting myself: 'It ought upon to be reflected that even Hitler was "democratically elected".' As for the rest of the diet (ARV's excluded), remember to take it with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

The main problem is, what to tell the people {non alcoholics)why they still waiting for a liver while a dumbass politician get a liver by jumping the que. I now have second thoughts about organ donation. What if a deserving person doesn't get my organs.

Daniel said...

Is there any difference between what this woman has inflicted on the disenfranchised SA HIV/Aids victims and what the Nazi doctors did to the jews in their "medical experiments"? I have no sympathy for her.

Johan Beaurain said...

Pierre de Vos on your blog you claim that:

“All available medical evidence suggests that taking anti-retrovirals when medically indicated will prolong a persons life.”

Would you be so kind as to avail us with the scientific evidence for your claim? The evidence that is in my possession indicates the exact opposite. Which is that the so-called “anti-retroviral drugs” is highly toxic and that it can only harm the health of a person taking the drugs.

http://www.tig.org.za/pdf-files/azt-achmat_geffen_heywood.pdf

Johan Beaurain
http://www.aras.ab.ca/articles/Beaurain/

Johan Beaurain said...

Pierre de Vos on your blog you claim that:

“All available medical evidence suggests that taking anti-retrovirals when medically indicated will prolong a persons life.”

Would you be so kind as to avail us with the scientific evidence for your claim? The evidence that is in my possession indicates the exact opposite. Which is that the so-called “anti-retroviral drugs” is highly toxic and that it can only harm the health of a person taking the drugs.

http://www.tig.org.za/pdf-files/azt-achmat_geffen_heywood.pdf

Johan Beaurain

Pierre de Vos said...

Johan

You remind me of that saying by Groucho Marx, I think who said: "Who are you going to believe: me or your very own eyes?" There are millions of people walking around today who would have been dead but for anti-retorviral drugs. Two famous ones are Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat. People I know whose CD4 count had dropped below 250 and started getting opportunistic infections like skin lesions are now, several years later, healthy with a CD4 count of over 600 due to the fact that they are taking anti-retorviral drugs. You will never believe this but this is the lived reality of people whose actual lives actually depend on these drugs....

Johan Beaurain said...

Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat are not taking their drugs under my very own eyes. They are probably fooling you. I can provide you with statistics of drug trials that happened under controlled conditions. Most of the innocent victims died soon after starting with the drugs.


http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AIDSsoc;_ylc=X3oDMTJiMm1oaXFjBF9TAzk3MzU5NzE1BGdycElkAzYwMTU4BGdycHNwSWQDMTcwNTA2MTU5MARzZWMDaGRyBHNsawNocGgEc3RpbWUDMTE4OTI0NDU3Nw--

“[Dying is apparently the new "doing well"...]
"A total of 439 [Malawian] children started on ART [anti-retroviral therapy]...By September 2006, 49 children (11%) had died, of whom 35 (71%) died by 3 months and 44 (89%) by 6 months. The cumulative incidence of death at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months after ART was 8, 12, 13 and 15%, respectively. ..CONCLUSION: : Although children do well on ART, there is high early mortality [!]" Bong CN et al. Risk factors for early mortality in children on adult fixed-dose combination antiretroviral treatment in a central hospital in Malawi. AIDS. 2007 Aug 20; 21(13): 1805-1810.”

As an academic you should not allow yourself to be fooled by people who claim to be scientifically illiterate

Johan Beaurain said...

[Large study of HIV-positive people not taking drugs. Shows a strikingly low death rate among groups with high CD4 counts ... and then recommends they should all be put on AIDS drugs...]
"17 609 [HIV-positive people] contributed a total of 30 313 person-years to the analysis of rates of AIDS or death in ART[anti-retroviral-therapy]-naive patients...The first AIDS events occurring at CD4 cell count >350 cells/mL were...examined: 63 (20%) were Kaposi's sarcoma (compared with 16% overall), 62 (20%) oesophageal candidiasis (17% overall), 42 (14%) tuberculosis (13% overall), 35 (11%) herpes simplex (6% overall), 37 (12%) recurrent bacterial infections (6% overall), 20 (6%) Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (19% overall), 17 (5%) cryptosporidiosis (3% overall) and 13 (4%) lymphoma (3% overall)...[Table 1 shows that the risk of death in 100 person years is 0.32 for CD4 counts 350-499, 0.20 for 500-649 and 0.17 for over 650]...[despite this, the authors conclude]...Our findings suggest that risk of AIDS and death might be reduced by using ART to raise CD4 cell counts even among patients with high CD4 cell counts" Rate of AIDS diseases or death in HIV-infected antiretroviral therapy-naive individuals with high CD4 cell count. AIDS. 2007 Aug 20; 21(13): 1717-1721.