UN angry with Zuma

UN special envoy for Aids in Africa Stephen Lewis said last week the effect of Zumas actions and statements was severely damaging for the battle against HIV and Aids in South Africa, which has an HIV/Aids infection rate among the highest in the world. “I don’t think anything can compensate for the damage he has done. “The outlandish and unacceptable male behaviour he demonstrated though his testimony on HIV was appallingly uninformed in a country that is wrestling with the highest number of infections in the world,” Lewis said at a news conference in Nairobi last week. Zuma was last week acquitted on charges of raping an HIV- positive family friend at his home in November last year, and has courted the wrath of organisations involved in the fight against HIV/Aids in South Africa. In his defence testimony during the trial, the former deputy president told the court he had taken a shower after having sexual intercourse with his accuser in an effort to clean himself and also because he realised he had just been intimate with an infected person. Responding to questions from journalists over the now infamous shower last week, Zuma said his statements had been taken out of context and that he had not purely taken the shower to prevent being infected with the virus. “Firstly, I am not certain how and why the shower thing was singled out. “I did not just voluntarily say I believe a shower takes it (HIV) away. She (state prosecutor Charin de Beer) asked me why did I need to go and have a shower and I said as an additional measure to me to clean myself, because I knew the type of person I was sleeping with. That’s an honest answer I gave. “I didn’t say, as has been reported, that showering is a cure for Aids,” Zuma said. He added: ‘It (the shower) was part of the additional things I had to do, because I knew that I had done something I was not supposed to do.” Lewis said Zuma’s statements had highlighted the lack of clarity on the South African government’s attitude towards HIV/ Aids. “The voice of the government in South Africa has been confused or confusing (on HIV/Aids) . . . the voice of Jacob Zuma made it more unpalatable,” the UN emissary said. In handing out his verdict on the rape allegations, Judge Willem van der Merwe said Zuma should have been more cautious in his actions, even more so in light of his position as a senior member of society and as a public figure. He said Zuma’s behaviour was also “unacceptable” considering the fact that Zuma had at one time been at the forefront of the country’s fight against Aids. During the trial, HIV/Aids activists and non-governmental and religious organisations involved in fighting HIV/Aids expressed anger at Zuma’s comments, with officials rushing to correct the “inaccurate perception” that taking a shower could prevent HIV infection. Nathan Geffen, a spokesman for advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said at the time that 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 described Zuma’s statements as “very dangerous”, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) also took 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 had emerged from the Zuma 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. The 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”.

May 2006
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