Speaking Out

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Wed Dec 16, 2009

Death of a villain

By Sohaila Abdulali

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang died today. How happy I am that I don’t have to pretend to be an objective journalist and write a straight-faced obituary.

It's sad to die. It’s even sadder when you've made sure that the cemetery is well stocked before you get there. In her nine years as Health Minister of South Africa (1999-2008), Tshabalala-Msimang and President Thabo Mbeki are universally acknowledged to be responsible for many thousands of deaths.

While she did unconscionable harm, some blame must go to everyone who let her get away with it — world leaders, who didn't object; UN agencies, which let her spout her deadly fallacies and didn't challenge her.

Tshabalala-Msimang promoted the use of garlic, beetroot, and olive oil to cure AIDS, and actively discouraged antiretroviral drugs. Thanks in part to her addled philosophy, South Africa became the epicenter of the pandemic.

She leaves behind a grieving family, and no doubt someone is shedding genuine tears for her. But the world at large is not. The AIDS pandemic has produced many heroes, and some villains worthy of the most frightening childhood tales. It's easy to make fun of the beetroot and garlic, and almost impossible to comprehend the pain, suffering and heartbreak this villain caused with her ridiculous and lethal policies while she was alive.

"There will never be anyone like her," we say when an important person dies. What a relief to say it in this case, and hope that it's true.