It was back in 1998 when Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was Minister of Health that she also used “an independent review committee” when she got rid of the South African Medical Control Council. Why? Because they were standing in the way of the unregulated and unlawful human testing of Virodene that was being done under her and then VP, Thabo Mbeki’s watch. Virodene was their “African answer to an African problem”, but years later the miracle AIDS drug were proven to be ineffective and dangerous. NDZ and Mbeki were accused of backdoor dealings, which ensured the ANC would have a stake in the pharmaceutical company that was developing and would ultimately be producing Virodene. They were cleared by the then Public Protector, but new information kept surfacing for years after his report.
The biggest problem with Virodene was not the millions of Rands spent on development, nor the use at SA clinics and hospitals when it was not tested or approved, but the fact that it was most probably the reason behind, by then, President Thabo Mbeki and NDZ’s stance on not allowing AZT’s to be administered to pregnant SA women suffering from AIDS.
On October 2 1998 it was formally decided by Minister Nkosazana Zuma, along with the various provincial health MECs, not to continue with the piloting of AZT for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Doctors across SA were begging NDZ to reverse her decision, as it ultimately would result in the birth of 200 HIV positive babies per day to continue. If she allowed the use of AZT’s, at least half of them could have been saved.
NDZ told the Mail & Guardian (October 16 1998) that while she could understand why a parent or doctor might want a different policy “I have to look at the whole picture. If you have limited resources, you may decide to put your resources into preventing mothers getting infected in the first place.”
And would you like to take a guess who disputed her reasoning?
Dr Glenda Gray, representing the scientific community told journalist, Carol Paton “Here’s a real way we can prevent transmission and the government is not intervening. They prefer incoherent campaigns instead of things that will really turn the tide against AIDS.” She pointed out that “Whatever money you put in [to providing AZT] you get out, in terms of [saving on] the costs of treating HIV-positive babies.”
It was only by the end of 2000, once Virodene was tested in Tanzania (with the help of Mbeki and NDZ) and found utterly useless that the distribution and use of AZT’s was allowed in SA. By then in excess of 330 000 SA deaths could be linked directly to their decision.
Even before the Virodene scandal NDZ awarded her friend, Mbongeni Ngema, R14.47 million Rand to produce Sarrafinna II in 1995. The show was intended to tour SA carrying a strong anti-Aids message aimed at the youth. It however never got off the ground, the money went missing and NDZ proceeded to lie to parliament about where the funding for the play came from. Then President Nelson Mandela protected her and the debacle soon moved to the back of South Africans minds.
As chairperson of the African Union, NDZ did not do much better. “Dr. Dlamini-Zuma didn’t know Africa and only cared about her ambitions back home. She just didn’t care about Africans,” prominent Nigerian human rights activist Chidi Anselm Odinkalu wrote in a rather unflattering opinion column in the Pan-African magazine “Pambazuka.” “Many will be forgiven for screaming: good riddance, Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma!” he added.
Even during the Ebola break-outs under her tenner as AU Chairperson, she shined in her absence and remained “hidden” in Addis Ababa, not joining high ranking officials touring the effected countries. All this together with the fact that she did nothing to counter the Boko Haram crises on the continent all contributed to the general feeling that NDZ “just doesn’t really care about Africans”, but only her own political career.
It must come as no surprise to South Africans that NDZ seems to have lied to parliament and the country again with regard to the irrational ban on tobacco. Her track record of looking out for her own interests, taking “short-cuts”, lying, undermining authority and her inflated sense of knowledge has been trademarks throughout her career.
‘Every life matters” seem to only apply when it suits her political career. As medical doctor and former minister of health, NDZ must be aware of the WHO definition of health: “that regards health not simply as the absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” A definition she most certainly ignored when implementing the sudden tobacco ban on already stressed South African citizens during the Covid lock-down. When she lobbied for South Africa’s progressive abortion laws, she supported the “my body, my choice” principal even though it leads to giving a baby of up to 20 weeks no choice. Yet when it comes to smoking it is no longer “my body my choice”.
As current Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and chairperson of the National Covid Command Council, Godzuma (a nickname she picked up over the years playing on Godzilla, the monster which destroys everything in its wake) is wielding more power and control than ever before. Hopefully a third President will not come to her rescue, the country can only hope that at the age of 71 she will opt for retirement soon.