South Africa’s civil society environment last week resembled a simmering pot of fury, with activists blasting Zuma for “immature statements”, with some of them argued could set the battle against HIV/Aids back several years. The statements also had HIV/Aids experts scurrying to correct the “incorrect perceptions” that taking a shower could prevent HIV infection, which they believed many had taken at face value, increasing their chances of contracting HIV and Aids. While testifying in his trial on charges of allegedly raping an HIV positive family friend at his home on November 2 last year, Zuma told the Johannesburg high court two weeks ago that he had taken a shower after having consensual unprotected sex with the woman in order to avoid contracting the HIV virus. Although the statements were taken under oath and were aimed at saving Zuma from a possible 15 year jail term if he is convicted, they have courted a vicious backlash for the African National Congress (ANC) deputy president. A document presented to President Thabo Mbeki by the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) reportedly expressed the ire of the country’s religious community over Zuma’s revelations. Part of the document read: “The campaign against HIV and Aids infection has been dealt a severe blow by the shameful disclosures during the Zuma trial. “For a man who was once chairperson of the SA Aids Council to disclose such wanton irresponsibility by having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, and then saying that taking a shower after the event reduces the chances of contracting the virus, (Zuma) has sent out a deadly signal to the male population of the nation.” The document is understood to have caused tension between the members present at the meeting, as some of them did not agree with the decision to present it at a forum with the president. To Page A3 Apart from the religious groups, spokespersons for various HIV/Aids prevention organisations also shared the view that the statements by Zuma, in light of his position as a “senior member of society” would do severe damage to the ambitions to slash the virus’ infection rate in South Africa. Nathan Geffen, a spokesman for the Treatment Action Campaign said Zuma’s statements had undermined the prevention work that had been going on in the country over the past 15 years. He said there was no evidence that a shower could reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Rape survivor organisation Rapcan also said Zuma’s statements were “very dangerous”, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) also took the opportunity to take a swipe at the former deputy president. Dianne Kohler Barnard, the DA’s spokesperson for health urged the department of Health to break its silence on the misleading information on HIV and Aids that was emerging from the Zuma rape trial. She said: “It is very important that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang reacts quickly and convincingly with a high-profile campaign giving the real facts about how Aids can be transmitted”. Tshabalala-Msimang herself has been severely critical of the media’s presentation of issues surrounding HIV and Aids throughout Zuma’s trial so far. At a launch of the “Year of Accelerated Prevention” campaign last week, the Health minister lambasted the media for its coverage and said they would be to blame should the government’s battle against HIV and Aids fail. “You (the media) are misleading the people, and it hurts. You should not be sensationalising these issues; it is not good for our children,” she said, adding that the media was failing to “put across what government’s policy is”. Meanwhile Zuma spent his 64th birthday in court on Thursday and was greeted in the street outside the court by a large blue and white cake with the message “Happy Birthday, 64th, Baba Nxamalala.” Champagne glasses and a bottle of sparkling grape juice stood ready for Zuma, while a woman with a large silver umbrella shielded the cake from the sun. In the courtroom, Zuma was wished a happy birthday by court officials, his legal team, the state prosecutors and Judge Willem van der Merwe. Zuma’s defence sought to cast doubt on his complainant’s claims of rape last week and brought in several witnesses who the woman at some point claimed had raped her. A total of eight witnesses last week gave evidence that the 31 year old complainant either accused them of raping her or at least attempting to, while some of them said they had witnessed such accusations being made against others. Most of the allegedly falsely accused claimed that they had not even touched her. Of the three men who testified about their associations with the Aids activist complainant on Wednesday, one man said she had sex with him, the other said they were a couple at a theological college, while the third said she got into a bath tub with him. However after listening to their detailed testimony in the Johannesburg High Court, State prosecutor Herman Broodryk told all three that the woman had said she did not know them. Durban estate agent Thulani Mpontshane said “that would be a blatant lie”. He said he had sex with the complainant, once without a condom, when she had spent a weekend at his flat “I would under normal circumstances not go to bed with a woman without a condom but I realised I had no choice, I just had to have sex,” he said. Mpontshane said he later introduced the woman to his flatmate Lungisa Henry Manzi, who also testified that he had shared a bath with the complainant. He said she had visited Mpontshane, who hid from her in his bedroom because he had another woman with him at the time. Manzi said he had watched videos with the woman while his friend hid from her and then had escorted her home where she had told his mother she would be spending the night at his flat. At the flat, the two watched television in Manzi’s room before he went to have a bath. He said the woman followed him into the bathroom, undressed and climbed into the bath with him. They had later gone to bed without having sex. In a separate testimony, the complainant’s “true love”, Pastor Modianyeo Terence Modise said he and the complainant had “just clicked” when they met as theological students in Vereeniging in 1995. “I think I could say it was love at first sight,” he told the court. He described one event when the complainant had gone into a “fit if rage” after he tried to have sexual intercourse with her. “Thinking she might be alone, I went to visit her and we had a lovely time together ‘ until something drastic happened that I can’t explain. “We were chatting, hugging, kissing and cuddling ‘ until she suddenly jumped up and became mad. “Why do I use the word mad? Because she grabbed everything ‘ pillows, blankets, everything ‘ and tossed them aside with the intention of burning them,” he said. Modise was adamant that he never tried to initiate sex with the complainant again because he was “very afraid”. The trial continues on Tuesday

April 2006
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