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SOUTH AFRICA: Zuma leaves many wanting more

Photo: The Presidency
The recent State of the Nation Address was the first to be held at night, in order to allow more South Africans to hear the presidential speech
Johanesburg, 12 February 2010 (PlusNews) - As South Africa marked the 20th anniversary of former President Nelson Mandela's release from prison, President Jacob Zuma reaffirmed his government's commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS, but many activists said his second State of the Nation address on 11 February 2010 left them wanting more.

Zuma cited health, trailing behind the economy and education, as one of government's top priorities. The continued prevention and treatment of HIV and a reduction in maternal mortality were among the goals, but the president failed to provide the details AIDS activists had hoped for.

The address fell at a particularly awkward time for Zuma, who has come under fire after it was recently disclosed that he had fathered another child out of wedlock.

The disclosure has sparked a heated public debate about Zuma's commitment to the fight against HIV, and his legitimacy as a role model; according to some, it has served as a stark reminder of the difficulties of trying to bring about behaviour change. South Africa has one of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates.

The devil is in the detail

Prudence Mabele, who heads the Positive Women's Network, described it as a "disappointing" speech on an "extraordinary" day; besides a dearth of detail, the speech failed to recognise vital links between HIV and issues such as reproductive health rights.

She said Zuma's brief and general discussion of HIV/AIDS might be a signal that the president wanted to avoid touching on issues that could be linked to recent headlines about unprotected sex and the child he had fathered.

''If the president can't actually address and name those issues then we're not moving [forward].''
Marion Stevens, an HIV/AIDS and gender programme manager, agreed with Mabele. "In relation to HIV, three things were mentioned: prevention, treatment and prevention of maternal mortality ... that's not good enough ... You've got a feminised epidemic, and there are concerns around treatment, sexual health and reproductive rights. If the president can't actually address and name those issues, then we're not moving [forward]."

However, Stevens noted that Zuma's Health Minster Dr Aaron Motsoaledi had done a great deal to raise the profile of maternal health. Denise Hunt, director of the AIDS Consortium, a network of NGOs, said Motsoaledi and his deputy were among the good people that the Zuma administration had brought in to deal with HIV and AIDS, but that these "generals" would need foot soldiers and a detailed battle plan.

"There were lots of grand th ings committed to on World AIDS Day [1 December 2009], and a lot of the right noises were made, but what about the plan of action? We need a major overhauling of the health system, and I'm not seeing any evidence of that," Hunt commented.

"The right commitments were made, but now it's the 'how' that's the challenge," she said. "We're really good at that – the grand plan – as a country, but the lack of detail and substance [in Zuma's speech] doesn't give me a sense of confidence."

Mabele said she was also waiting for details, but welcomed Zuma's announcement that the government would sign agreements with ministers specifying in detail the results - with timeframes and costs - their departments had to achieve.

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Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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