Thabo Mbeki

On 12 January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal unanimously overturned judge Nicholson's judgment but the resignation stood.Thabo Mbeki was the executive face of government in South Africa from 1994. During his time in office the economy grew at an average rate of 4.5% per year. Mbeki created employment in the middle sectors of the economy and oversaw a fast-growing black middle class with the implementation of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). This growth exacerbated the demand for trained professionals strained by emigration due to violent crime, but failed to address unemployment amongst the unskilled bulk of the population. He attracted the bulk of Africa's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and made South Africa the focal point of African growth. He was the architect of NEPAD whose aim is to develop an integrated socio-economic development framework for Africa. He also oversaw the successful building of economic bridges to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations with the eventual formation of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum to "further political consultation and co-ordination as well as strengthening sectoral co-operation, and economic relations".

Mbeki has mediated in difficult and complex issues on the African continent including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Côte d'Ivoire, and some important peace agreements. He oversaw the transition from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU). His "quiet diplomacy" in Zimbabwe, however, is blamed for protracting the survival of Robert Mugabe's regime at the cost of thousands of lives and intense economic pressure on Zimbabwe's neighbours. He became a vocal leader of the Non-Aligned Movement in the United Nations, and, while leveraging South Africa's seat on the Security Council, he agitated for reform of that body.

Mbeki has received worldwide criticism for his AIDS stance. He questions the link between viruses and AIDS and believes that the correlation between poverty and the AIDS rate in Africa was a challenge to the viral theory of AIDS. His fate was not helped by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the overhaul of the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa. His ban of antiretroviral drugs in public hospitals was responsible for the premature deaths of between 330,000 and 365,000 people. Thabo Mbeki has also been criticised for responding to negative comments made about his government by accusing critics of racism.

In 1995 the International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS was held in South Africa, the first time that the annual conference had been held in Africa. At the time Mbeki was Deputy President and in his official capacity acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic. The South African Ministry of Health announced that some 850,000 people – 2.1% of the total population – were believed to be HIV-positive. In 2000 the Department of Health outlined a five-year plan to combat AIDS, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. A National AIDS Council was established to oversee the implementation of the plan.

AIDS denialist connections

While serving as deputy President, AIDS was in his portfolio, and he customarily wore a red ribbon while specifically promoting AIDS prevention measures. He did preside over a controversial and brief embrace of a South African experimental drug called Virodene which later proved to be ineffective; the episode appeared to have increased his scepticism about the scientific consensus that quickly condemned the drug.
After he assumed the Presidency, he appears to have articulated more clearly his understanding that poverty is a significant factor in the prevalence of AIDS and other health problems. He urged political attention be directed to addressing poverty generally rather than only against AIDS specifically. Some speculate that the suspicion engendered by a life in exile and by the colonial domination and control of Africa led Mbeki to react against a portrayal of AIDS as another Western characterisation of Africans as promiscuous and Africa as a continent of disease and hopelessness. For example, speaking to a group of university students in 2001, he struck out against what he viewed as the racism underlying how many in the West characterised AIDS in Africa:

Convinced that we are but natural-born, promiscuous carriers of germs, unique in the world, they proclaim that our continent is doomed to an inevitable mortal end because of our unconquerable devotion to the sin of lust.

Additionally, his views dovetailed with some broader themes in African politics. Many Africans find it suspicious that black Africans bear the largest share of the AIDS burden, and that the drugs to treat it are expensive and sold mainly by Western pharmaceutical companies. The history of malicious and manipulative health policies of the colonial and apartheid governments in Africa, including biological warfare programs set up by the apartheid state, also help to fuel views that the scientific discourse of AIDS might be a tool for European and American political, cultural or economic agendas.

ANC rules and Mbeki's commitment to the idea of party discipline mean that he may not publicly criticise the current government policy that HIV causes AIDS and that antiretrovirals should be provided. Some critics of Mbeki continued to assert that notwithstanding he continued to influence AIDS policy through his personal views behind the scenes, a charge which his office regularly denies. However, in a 2007 published biography "Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred", author Mark Gevisser describes how the president, knowing that he was writing the biography, contacted him earlier in 2007. This was to ask whether the author had seen a 100-page paper secretly authored by Mr. Mbeki and distributed anonymously among the ANC leadership six years ago. This paper compared orthodox AIDS scientists to latter-day Nazi concentration camp doctors and portrayed black people who accepted orthodox AIDS science as "self-repressed" victims of a slave mentality. It described the "HIV/AIDS thesis" as entrenched in "centuries-old white racist beliefs and concepts about Africans". In the published biography Mr Gevisser describes the president's view of the disease as apparently shaped by an obsession with race, the legacy of colonialism and "sexual shame".

Since release of the biography, President Mbeki's defenders have tried hard to clarify his position as being an AIDS "dissident" as opposed to an AIDS "denier". That is, he accepts that HIV causes AIDS but is a dissident in that he is at odds with prevailing AIDS-focused public health policies, stating that it is only one of many immune deficiency diseases, many of which are associated with poverty, and that political attention and resources should be directed to poverty and immune deficiency diseases generally rather than AIDS specifically.