Rally In Support Of World Aids Day
Address By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party
Chairman: Zululand District House Of Traditional Leaders And
Undunankulu KaZulu

 

Vryheid: 1 December 2010 

 

In the last century, between 1914 and 1918, the world engaged the War to End All Wars which has become known as World War I. Soldiers from across Europe, Asia, the United States, the Russian Empire, Australia and Africa entered into combat. They came from the French colonies of Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Madagascar and Morocco. They came from Namibia, Poland, Japan and Ghana, from Yugoslavia, Ireland and Portugal. It was a global war that lasted four years. By the end of it, the death toll through combat, disease and starvation, among soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war, had reached 16.5 million.

 

Today, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 22.4 million people are living with HIV/Aids. The figures around this disease are staggering. It is difficult for us to comprehend the impact HIV/Aids has had since it first emerged in the eighties. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Aids is more prevalent than anywhere else in the world, more than 14 million children have lost one or both of their parents to this disease. South Africa has the highest incidence of infection throughout the world, and KwaZulu Natal bears the heaviest burden of all.

 

I therefore feel the weight of responsibility as I rise to speak in Vryheid on World Aids Day. Although we have been living with the reality of HIV/Aids for more than three decades, there is still a sense of urgency about getting the message across that we can beat this disease; we can turn the tide that is threatening to crush us. 

 

The world has marked Aids Day since 1988, but we have only been speaking openly about this disease in our own country for about a decade. And there is still far too much myth and superstition, too much discrimination and silence, too much shame and hopelessness.

 

Like so many families in KwaZulu Natal, I have walked a personal journey with this disease and seen it strike my family. My wife and I have buried two of our children who succumbed to Aids after a long battle with HIV. On the 24th of April 2004, my son, Prince Nelisuzulu Benedict, died at the King George V Hospital in Durban. Just a few months later, on the 5th of August, we faced the death of my daughter, Princess Mandisi Sibukakonke. Both were cut down in the prime of their lives. Both were buried amidst tears and suffering.

 

When I buried my children, I made the decision not to hide the cause of their death as it had become customary to do. I felt that we needed to become open with one another about this disease, so that we could expose it to the light of truth. In this way, I hoped, we might save lives and return hope to the many who were facing the lonely journey through HIV/Aids. I therefore spoke publically about the battle our family had endured and unashamedly announced that my son and my daughter had lost the battle to Aids.

 

I am of a generation and a culture that does not speak openly about sex. Many would say that my leadership position makes it inappropriate for me to address matters of this nature in public, let alone speak to the media about it. But I know that we are facing a war; in some ways a war more devastating than any war we have fought on our own soil or anywhere else in the world. And when we face a war of this magnitude, the niceties of polite conversation fall away and the burden of speaking openly is placed squarely on our shoulders.

 

Shortly after my son died in 2004, former President Nelson Mandela lost a grandson to HIV/Aids. I was gratified when he too stood up and spoke about it openly. The walls of silence were finally being penetrated and people had started speaking about what caused Aids, how to prevent HIV transmission, where to get tested, how to live more responsibly and what to do for the millions of people already suffering from this disease. Information proved to be the tool that slowed the terrible onslaught of infection. Today, the epidemic appears to have stabilized after years of skyrocketing upwards. But there are still many infections every day, and still many families struggling with HIV/Aids.

 

I speak of families struggling with this disease because, even though HIV is transmitted from one individual to another, its impact is felt by everyone around the carrier. HIV positive status means you need to change your lifestyle. You need to eat healthier, exercise and rest, and be sure to use condoms, stay faithful and be honest with your partner. But it also means needing a support structure of family, friends, healthcare providers and community organizations. It means relying on people to take care of you when you are sick, relying on state funds for treatment, relying on colleagues to carry your work when you are off sick, relying on relatives to provide for you, relying on nurses to visit you, relying on the church to support you and relying on others to take care of your children as Aids takes its toll. Everyone feels the impact.

 

It is devastating to lose a partner or parent, a child or friend to a disease which is preventable. I know we could have done more in South Africa to slow this disease and turn the tide of infection. We could have saved lives. But our Government was slow to react to the pandemic and, when it did, it first moved through the painful stages of denial, uncertainty and procrastination before agreeing that this was a war we would have to engage with boldness. Other countries, which moved more quickly to this stage of willingness to act, stopped infection rates and even began to reverse them.

 

The prime example, of course, is Uganda, where the HIV/Aids pandemic was reduced from 30% prevalence to just 5% under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni. Uganda did not have the resources which are available to South Africa, yet they have a success story. In July of 2003, I had the privilege of attending the South African Christian Leadership Assembly which was addressed by the First Lady of Uganda, Mrs Janet Museveni. She told us that the Ugandan people have fought the pandemic by returning to some of the indigenous mores of the Ugandan people, as well as following the teachings of the Church on the importance of chastity before marriage.

 

She quoted a speech that her husband, President Yoweri Museveni, delivered in Italy in 1998, in which he stated that if the only thing that could save Uganda from the pandemic of HIV/Aids is just a piece of rubber, referring to condoms, then we are already doomed. He knew that there had to be more. There had to be a personal commitment, launched on a national scale, that could bring about the moral regeneration of a nation.

 

South Africa also launched a campaign of moral regeneration and positioned it under the leadership of our Deputy President at the time, Mr Jacob Zuma. This is not the time for recriminations. But history will record President Zuma's poor judgement when he uttered before a court that he had showered after unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman who was not his wife, in the hope that he would not be infected. History also records the wavering of former President Mbeki over whether HIV really causes Aids, and the ill-placed emphasis of the late Minister of Health, Dr Tshabala-Msimang, on treating HIV/Aids with garlic and African potatoes. History will even remember the bleak moment when Government stapled condoms onto information leaflets, rendering them useless.

 

I have found myself frustrated time and again with the poor leadership decisions of our Government when it comes to fighting HIV/Aids. I have tried to provide my own leadership to win this battle, both as a traditional leader and as the President of the IFP. When the IFP was at the helm of the province of KwaZulu Natal, our Premier, Dr LPHM Mtshali, drove the initiative to provide anti-retroviral treatment to all expectant women in this province, in opposition to the will of the central Government.

 

It had been proven that a simple dose of Nevirapine could prevent HIV transmission from mother to baby at birth, and we sought to offer Nevirapine in every hospital and clinic in order to save lives. And we did save lives. Thousands of children are alive and healthy today because of that intervention. But when we challenged the national Government to do the same for women across South Africa, they said it could not be done. We took them to court, together with the Treatment Action Campaign, to force them to do what any government should be duty-bound to do.

 

The IFP had solicited a commitment from the international pharmaceutical company, Boehringer-Ingelheim, to provide Nevirapine for free for five years. We could not understand why Government refused to act with the sense of urgency that this pandemic demanded.  It had already been several years since Amakhosi of this Kingdom met in Ulundi to establish Task Teams of Amakhosi to address the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. We, as traditional leaders, knew that we had to act. We re-emphasised the Zulu custom of virginity testing and urged indunas and amakhosi to encourage respect for young women before marriage.

 

Traditional leaders have been sidelined by Government. Our role, powers and functions have been all but obliterated, in the face of endless promises that the institution of Ubukhosi would be accommodated in a democratic South Africa. Yet, in many ways, we have done more to halt the spread of HIV than some leaders in Government. I must commend our King as a champion in this battle. His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation had the foresight to bring back several of our ancient customs to promote respect for women and encourage sexual purity.

 

The year my children died, the Government of the United Kingdom committed to spending one billion Pounds over three years on Aids-related work for developing countries. Even now, 95% of people living with HIV/Aids are in developing nations. The world has placed great emphasis on the need to take bold action as we fight HIV/Aids.

 

In 2005, I visited Chatham House in London and spoke to the assembly on breaking down the walls of silence and stigma surrounding HIV/Aids in South Africa. On that occasion I noted the prediction of scientists that it would be a decade before the pandemic would reach a plateau and the full impact of HIV/Aids would be felt. We are halfway there, and already we feel the devastating impact of HIV/Aids in our economy, on our social structure and on our social assistance infrastructure.

 

We should have a larger workforce in our country. We should have fewer citizens dependent on social assistance. Our healthcare system should be coping. Our children should be at school, rather than running their households and providing for their younger siblings. I think we keep missing the mark in our strategy of fighting this disease. I believe the Love Life campaign glamorised sex for teenagers and sent a message that all young people are doing it; it is expected and okay, and even trendy. I also have difficulty with the idea of promoting being HIV positive as belonging to some kind of elite club that one should be proud to be part of.

 

There is a space between stigmatising Aids and glamorising Aids; and in that space the people of goodwill need to work and talk and do battle to stop a disease that is killing our people far faster than it should. We need to promote the same message that turned Uganda into a success story. We need to call our people back to morality and personal responsibility. We need to promote the use of condoms, together with the message that faithfulness to one partner is critically important.

 

In a sense, I think we need to prepare people beforehand for what they will experience in their journey with HIV/Aids. Let us not sugar-coat anything, because this is a tough and bitter road to walk. Let's be realistic about what our people are suffering and speak openly about our experiences as we and the people we love fight the ravages of this disease. Let us focus greater attention on food security and ensuring that our people have balanced nutrition, to keep their bodies strong and ward off opportunistic diseases.

 

People with HIV do not always die of Aids. More often they die of related infections, like TB, because their bodies' immune system can no longer fight these secondary infections. It is true that we are all going to die. But it is wrong that any of us should die before our time, or suffer unduly before we step into eternity. I wish, on this occasion, to pay a special tribute to the grandmothers and children, the social workers and healthcare workers, who are caring for people as they succumb to HIV/Aids. I know this is a heartbreaking task, and I commend you for giving so selflessly for the sake of others. May God bless our caregivers, and open our eyes to the tragedy in our midst.

 

As we gather to mark World Aids Day, I wish to thank the Honourable Mayor of Zululand for offering me the opportunity to speak once again about HIV/Aids and our ongoing war against it. I have spoken in venues throughout the world, to journalists, students, doctors and academics;  to leaders, Presidents and lawyers. My message on every occasion has been the same; we need to act. We need to take bold and decisive steps, for we are in a war that is likely to decimate our nation if we fail to act.

 

By speaking out as I do, I am fighting this war. By taking care of orphaned children within our families and communities, we are fighting this war. By using a condom every time you have sex, you are fighting this war. We need every South African to become an active soldier on this battleground. And like the men in the trenches during World War I, we need to pray to God that He might lead us and give us the victory we so desperately need. Let us take responsibility.

 

I thank you.