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Gevisser on Aids: A complicity of opposites

The Aids debate has entered a fascinating phase with Mark Gevisser’s nervous and hesitant — yet unmistakable — admission that President Thabo Mbeki is not now, nor has he ever been, an Aids denialist. Queried by the Sunday Times on Mbeki’s Aids stance, Gevisser replied: “He [Mbeki] doesn’t call it denialism, and I agree with him.” At his book launch on November 5, Gevisser similarly conceded that Mbeki is not an Aids denialist.

Gevisser has thus unambiguously turned his back on the central thrust of the entire Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) against Mbeki. In TAC demonology, Mbeki is accused of callous and even genocidal “denial” of the existence of any Aids pandemic. In this silly caricature, Zapiro accuses Mbeki of symbolically slaying a new Hector Petersen, with Mbeki’s Aids policies standing in for the old apartheid guns. In this TAC propaganda, Mbeki is further accused of a supposedly suicidal insistence that HIV does not cause Aids. All of this is what Gevisser rejects when he agrees that Mbeki is not a “denialist”, after all.

But Gevisser still insists that Mbeki is what Gevisser now defines as an “Aids dissident”. Gevisser says that “denialists”, which he admits Mbeki isn’t, claim that HIV does not cause Aids, and/or that no pandemic exists. By contrast, a “dissident”, which Gevisser says Mbeki indeed is, asks questions within or about Aids policy.

However, this hastily cobbled together distinction between “denialism” and “dissidence” is demonstrably wrong: Anthony Brink, who indeed denies that HIV causes Aids and who further denies that Aids exists, insists that the correct term for him is “dissident”. Brink vociferously rejects the term “denialist” as applied to himself. By contrast, Mbeki doesn’t describe his own approach as “Aids dissidence”. He calls it policymaking, which always involves asking questions about the best integrated approach, a practice that he follows on policies across the board, not only on Aids policy. Thus Gevisser’s new definitions simply do not work. They just sow chaos.

Rather negligently, Gevisser does not state (let alone emphasise) this supposed distinction between “Aids denialism” and “Aids dissidence” in his book, yet he has placed great emphasis upon it since the book appeared. He is trying to ride two horses at once: to convey the truth of Mbeki’s position while trying to manage the anger of his friends in the Aids-drug lobby — some of whom have made whole discourses and careers out of consistently misrepresenting Mbeki’s views.

“In my attempt to understand [Mbeki’s] position on Aids, I even lost friends,” writes Gevisser. These “friends” plainly lacked the intellectual tolerance that Mbeki displayed towards both Gevisser and myself as we wrote our different books. Meanwhile, Gevisser himself was not wholly immune to these pressures, hence his fudging. With his compromised and compromising take on Mbeki’s Aids policy, Gevisser has added to confusion rather than clarity in the Aids debate.

“Dissidence” is Gevisser’s word for Mbeki, not Mbeki’s word for himself. And it is a misleading word, because “Aids denialism” and “Aids dissidence” have tended to be taken as the same thing until now in the Aids debate. Mbeki indeed challenged various aspects of the old Aids policy consensus as it stood in 2000. But, as Gevisser himself concedes, these themes have since become part of the evolving Aids policy consensus and orthodoxy.

One of the reasons that South Africa has the most solid Aids statistics in the world, while countries such as India bear the brunt of the recent 40% United Nations write-down of Aids prevalence numbers, is that Mbeki raised the problem of dodgy statistics so sharply so long ago. It is through such questions that countries smarten up their policies. If this was “dissidence”, it was so in the healthiest sense rather than in the pejorative sense that carries stubborn connotations of “denialism”. So Gevisser ought to have used a term other than “Aids dissidence”, which travels around as a synonym for “denialism”. He should have used a word free of the connotations of “denialism” that he himself rejects.

Where does Gevisser concede that Mbeki’s “dissidence” was healthy, not pejorative, and certainly not genocidal? In an extremely unobtrusive single paragraph of his book, downplaying a range of inconvenient truths as a favour to his intolerant friends in the Aids-drug lobby, Gevisser summarises the whole large areas of Mbeki’s Aids thinking that are, in fact, central to the debates that Mbeki initiated — debates that I lay out more systematically in Fit to Govern. In this paragraph, which appears on pages 759 and 760 of his book, Gevisser rather quietly writes that Mbeki had “mellowed on the subject of Aids over the years”:

This was largely because he believed that his interventions had had a significant effect: the scientific world and international agencies did now admit poverty as a critical co-factor to the spread of the epidemic; it was now common cause that it was important to treat preventable diseases such as TB and malaria as it was to fight Aids; the role of nutritional therapy, too, had become more accepted as an essential part of the treatment of immune deficiency than it was in 2000. He also thought that many of his concerns about ARVs have been proven correct, in particular the problems of resistance that had arisen with respect to Nevirapine in pregnant HIV-positive mothers.

Since Mbeki has never denied that the pandemic exists or that HIV causes Aids, Gevisser ought not, in fairness, to have summarised the complexities of Mbeki’s positions with the vague, simplistic and loaded term “dissidence”, a term that when placed, for example, in Anthony Brink’s mouth, means precisely the denial that HIV causes Aids and the denial that any pandemic exists. Gevisser’s muddled and fudged terminology has sadly fuelled renewed confusion in the Aids debate.

Confusion? Just see how vehemently Mbeki’s critics cite Gevisser as conclusive proof that Mbeki is a “denialist” — precisely what Gevisser says Mbeki is not! Business Day‘s Tim Cohen credited Gevisser with telling “the truth” about “Mbeki’s Aids denialism” (November 10) and Business Day reported that “Spotlight on denialism may dent Mbeki’s ANC hopes” (November 13). According to Business Day‘s Hajra Omarjee, “Gevisser says Mbeki spoke of his denialism as recently as June this year when he again questioned the link between HIV and Aids.” But Mbeki “spoke” of no such thing, nor does Gevisser claim that he did. Gevisser himself, speaking at the launch of the book, conceded that Mbeki was indeed not an “Aids denialist”.

Mbeki himself had made this eminently clear in an interview on April 3 2007 with Lionel Barber and Alec Russell of the Financial Times:

The current [HIV/Aids] policy is actually quite old. Already in the Nineties, 1998 or something, whatever, you can trace formal comprehensive South African government policy from that. And as today we decided then that the deputy president would lead that campaign, which I did as deputy president. And it has continued like that ever since. Later we decided that we should put out a formal document … therefore we did, a 2000 to 2005 comprehensive policy on Aids and sexually transmitted disease …

So your medical documents will say acquired immune deficiency syndrome, that is Aids. What that means: you have got this challenge of immune deficiency. Alright, what causes immune deficiency? HIV. Alright. Is that all that causes immune deficiency? The medical textbooks will say there are other things that cause immune deficiency. There is also genetic immune deficiency; that is a different phenomenon.

So I say, alright, let’s respond comprehensively to everything that causes immune deficiency. That’s where you get the story that I have denied a connection. Nobody has ever shown me where I did. They say it. But you say where, when, they can’t. It was never said I never did … You have got to attend to HIV absolutely, but you have got to attend to these other matters. So that is all. I was listening to the radio yesterday. And somebody phones this telephone programme, and says, ‘Oh, the president, we know him for he is a denialist. Like he denied there is a connection between HIV and Aids.’ What can I do?

The “veritable army of researchers and assistants” whom Gevisser credits in the acknowledgements to his book somehow overlooked this prominent interview, which was reproduced in Business Day the day after it had appeared in London last April.

The confusion caused as a result of Gevisser’s inadequate research and synthesis is now being exploited from two starkly opposite directions. On the one hand, those such as Anthony Brink, who have long denied that HIV causes Aids, trade on Gevisser’s confused terminology in order to claim Mbeki for their “dissident” cause, defined precisely as the denial that HIV causes Aids, a definition of “dissident” that Gevisser himself ironically rejects. On the other hand, Mbeki’s illiberal detractors at Business Day and elsewhere trade on the same Gevisser-sponsored confusion so that they can continue to blame Mbeki for denying that HIV causes Aids. This is the complicity of opposites.

This complicity of opposites brings together an unholy alliance of Aids-denialist self-promoters such as Anthony Brink and the anti-Mbeki propagandists of the Treatment Action Campaign. Both sides have a perverse common interest in distorting Mbeki’s views. While Brink wants a god of “denialism”, Zackie Achmat wants a devil of that same “denialism”. Meanwhile, Gevisser, either carelessly or opportunistically, has tried to have it both ways.

As I point out in Fit to Govern, Brink habitually attributes the full and varied range of his own views to the president, among others. This has got him into trouble before. After he claimed in a letter to a prospective supporter that Mbeki had instigated the formation of his Treatment Information Group (TIG) as a counterweight to the TAC, the Presidency publicly crapped on him, as was reported in the Mail & Guardian on March 25 2005: “A statement from the president’s office said Mbeki has ‘declare[d] his views on Aids and antiretroviral treatment, and the claims in advocate Brink’s document of secretive counter-mobilisation, intimate friendships and his special influence on the thinking of government leaders do not, we believe, deserve a response’.” Apart from his attendance at the 2000 Aids Panel meeting in Pretoria, Brink has never even so much as met Mbeki. He has not had a single personal meeting with Mbeki, ever in his life. He pretends.

Brink has also self-servingly claimed the friendship or admiration of, and been sharply repudiated by, the documentary journalist John Pilger and the novelist John le Carre. This week it was the turn of my friend and attorney, Christine Qunta, who has now decided that she has no alternative but to withdraw as Brink’s attorney following his recent conduct. Business Day editor Peter Bruce rather gullibly wrote that Brink “first introduced Qunta and Roberts”, an assertion that surprised both Qunta and myself. (Bruce, titan of journalistic accuracy, checked with neither of us, apparently trusting Brink himself. In fact, Qunta and I met through a mutual friend in Johannesburg 12 years ago.)

The complicity of opposites in our Aids debate is a strange, but not unique, phenomenon. Tony Leon showed a similar co-dependency with his ostensible rival, Zwelinzima Vavi, in giving an exit interview as DA leader to the Mail & Guardian this year: “Wasn’t your open hostility to the trade unions a miscalculation?” the M&G asked. Leon replied: “My attitude has shifted. They have a role in advancing certain values, and Cosatu’s Vavi has been a more strident opposition leader than I have been. I’m not scared of being on the right side of an argument with the wrong people. On labour legislation, I feel they have too much power; on other issues — because they’re completely sidelined in the ANC — too little.” Mbeki later quoted this example of the complicity of opposites in his online letter dated May 25 2007.

This complicity of opposites is also a familiar feature of politics beyond our own shores. On page 128 of The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries, Blair’s former spin doctor quotes the prime minister himself as Blair points to “the left-right alliance trap”, which, Blair says, was “the history of Labour down the years: inhale the right’s propaganda and spew it out in more noxious form. The right say we have ditched our principles, then the left say it with more venom because they talk of hurt and betrayal.” In the same perverse way, Edwin Cameron and Anthony Brink are on the same side of the “Mbeki and Aids” debate, for their starkly different reasons. Gevisser, meanwhile, tap-dances hilariously between them.

As already indicated, Gevisser gives only a single downplayed paragraph on pages 759 and 760 of his book to the whole large areas of Mbeki’s Aids thinking that I lay out in Fit to Govern. Instead of engaging those relevant issues, Gevisser merely writes, rather fatuously, that Mbeki had “mellowed on the subject of Aids over the years”. He then gives an equally cramped summary, placed rather dismissively in parentheses, of the supposedly “orthodox” counter-arguments that supposedly tell against this list of Mbeki’s achievements. A large debate is obviously necessary to sort out these claims and counter-claims. But Gevisser wholly ducks that debate, not even citing Fit to Govern. He simply chicken-hawks the entire analytical debate. Why does this happen to Gevisser? Why does he work so hard to suppress the substance of the Aids debate?

The problem goes to the heart of his methodology as a biographer. When Gevisser turns to deal with the Aids debate, the simplistic “narrative” approach of his book becomes its central problem. A good biography is a hybrid of storytelling and analysis. But, as several early critics have observed, Gevisser’s book firmly elevates “storytelling” over “analysis”. In general Gevisser’s self-described method is to bring facts and “empathy” to Mbeki’s story, rather than judgement. The big exception, however, is the Aids debate, where Gevisser’s ill-informed and ill-researched judgements tumble in.

Gevisser said very sweepingly near the end of an SAFM interview the day after his recent book launch that it was far too early to judge Mbeki. Gevisser even said, in the same interview, that his role as biographer was not to judge Mbeki. This is obviously wrong, as biographers always inevitably judge their subjects, even when they least seem to be doing so. Indeed, earlier in the very same interview Gevisser himself said proudly that, in his Aids chapter, he indeed delivers judgement upon Mbeki. The problem for Gevisser is that judgement is an analytical process while storytelling is a narrative one. And because Gevisser’s book is overly narrative and insufficiently analytical, he does not do enough in his Aids chapter to strengthen his narrative with the tools of analysis, of evidence and of defensible judgement. He makes forensic assessments without demonstrating forensic skills. His storytelling is brilliant; his analysis naive.

Just look at the remarkable (and remarkably misplaced) “narrative” way in which Gevisser reaches the “analytical” conclusion that Mbeki is an “Aids dissident”. Quite apart from Gevisser’s chaos over the definitions of “denialist” and “dissident”, as already mentioned, he simply does not analyse Mbeki’s positions and policies, as stated for example in the Financial Times interview I have already cited. Instead, from page 735 to 737, Gevisser merely tells us another nice-enough story. It is dramatic — and thus a narrative success, as is much of the book — but it does less that zero to clarify the analytical reality of Mbeki’s policy and intellectual position on HIV/Aids policy.

In June 2007, as I was preparing this book for print, I received a phone call late one Saturday night from Thabo Mbeki … [H]e was calling me to find out whether I had seen the document entitled ‘Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics’.

Instead of reading this document, analysing it and placing it properly place within the lineage and synthesis of Mbeki’s known views, Gevisser simply cited the document’s epigraphs and then turned entirely away from analysis, in order to tell yet another hopelessly speculative story, in which the text becomes a totem or symbol of an ill-defined “dissidence”, rather than an intellectual object to be read and understood within a thorough and authoritative synthesis. Shying away from all the necessary analysis, Gevisser offers only this: “There is no question as to the message Thabo Mbeki was delivering to me along with this document: he was now, as he has been since 1999, an Aids dissident.” Huh?

Unfortunately for Gevisser, convincing analysis can never fall from the sky in this way, like manna from heaven. It cannot be hand-delivered like a lukewarm pizza by a man on a motorcycle, or even in a presidential car. In this Gevisser resembles those who jumped to the wholesale conclusion that, in his nuanced response to a controversial speech by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mbeki was endorsing wholesale the Frenchman’s anti-black racism. In fact, there was much more in the speech and it was to those themes that Mbeki was very properly directing attention.

But in their Gevisser-like eagerness to treat documents like totems of some singular and symbolic meaning (in one case “Aids dissidence”; in the other “racism”), commentators on the Sarkozy speech converted it into a singular totem of “racism” instead of what Mbeki expected, which was that Sarkozy would be critically read and analysed, as with the speech that Gordon Brown had made at the same time, to which Mbeki also directed the attention of readers. Mbeki likewise expected that Gevisser would read and analyse the delivered document, not merely treat it as a totem of an ill-defined “dissidence.”

Where Gevisser ignored the Financial Times interview on Aids that ought to have made him pause for thought and for synthesis, the critics in the Sarkozy case ignored Mbeki’s recent online letter, which ought to have made them pause for thought and for synthesis. There Mbeki wrote: “Because of the global and timely significance of these addresses, I believe that as many of us as possible should study them, of course with no obligation to agree with them. Nevertheless, they present urgent and important tasks to which we must respond.” In both cases unthinking condemnation rushed in where what was called for was nuanced thought.

What to do? Mbeki and his Financial Times interviewers thought aloud, together, about the confusion that had systematically afflicted South African HIV and Aids debates:

FT: You set the record straight today.
Mbeki: I have done it many times.
FT: Were you wilfully misunderstood?
Mbeki: I don’t know. I really don’t know. It might have been bad communication. We were raising questions in a situation when there is a particular understanding that had developed in society so that once you say something else it looks like you are challenging this established truth. It may be, but as I say it is actually a very simple matter.

Now Gevisser has contributed his fresh share to the old and tiresome confusion. If the Financial Times felt sure that Mbeki had authoritatively set the record straight, Gevisser has proven it wrong. Unlike the optimists of the Financial Times, Mbeki rather wearily half-suspected that the misrepresentations would probably continue. And so they have. The reason for this is the complicity of opposites: the energies of those, including Gevisser, who refuse to let go of ideological fictions. On June 15 Mail & Guardian journalist Vicki Robinson recognised in Fit to Govern what she called “a convincing argument for how Mbeki’s stance on HIV/Aids has been misunderstood and in turn capitalised on by powerful individuals such as Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Cameron”. She was implicitly recognising the complicity of opposites of which I speak in the book.

I can state authoritatively, and without fear of contradiction, that Mbeki fully expected Gevisser to track and know his relevant record and to incorporate the June materials into an analytically sound and synthesised whole. That is the basic task not only of biography, but of all analysis. Instead, Gevisser has proceeded rather like Bob Woodward, who courted ridicule in his George Bush books by systematically claiming to read the attitudes and opinions of his interviewees in their “body language”. Gevisser, like Woodward, wilfully departed from available evidence and reality. Instead of thorough analysis, Gevisser purported to read a mysterious and intuitive “message” in a mere gesture of document delivery: “There is no question as to the message Thabo Mbeki was delivering to me along with this document: he was now, as he has been since 1999, an Aids dissident.”

Why precisely was there “no question” about the “message”? Was it perhaps the firm and resolute body language of the driver(did he swagger?) in delivering the document? Gevisser’s treatment of the content of the document is cursory at best. He simply quotes the epigraphs and moves on. That is no way to handle the obvious clash between the Financial Times interview of April and the nice Gevisser story of June, to say nothing of Mbeki’s extensive record prior to the Financial Times interview. Gevisser needed — and still needs — to do more analytical work.

Gevisser’s methodology reminds me of the first SABC television interview I ever did. I had just co-written the Moseneke Report on Privatisation (1995), which was a critique of the global failures of the ideologically driven “big-bang” privatisations of the early 1990s. The SABC interviewer, Max du Preez, clearly had not read the report. During the commercial break he desperately shuffled through its pages, blinking in panic as we got back on air.

As the interview opened, Du Preez plainly expected me to support privatisation while Sam Shilowa, Cosatu general secretary, opposed it. Du Preez was accordingly startled when I instead launched into a litany of the pitfalls that had to be avoided if public-private partnerships were to work. I gave detailed examples. “But, but, you support privatisation,” he spluttered (or words to that effect). Why, I asked? Well you wrote this, he said, pointing triumphantly to the occurrence of the word “privatisation” in the title of my text. By this spurious logic the author of a “report on Hitler” could be expected to support Hitler.

The underlying methodological point, missed by Du Preez in that 1995 interview as by Gevisser in his 2007 book, is that documents are not sacred totems, self-sufficient in themselves to convey, before analysis and synthesis, any such single-minded ideological messages as “dissidence” or “denialism” or “orthodoxy”. Gevisser needed to undertake the hard work of analysis and questioning that the arrival of the document might and ought to have commenced. Instead, he merely produced the document delivery itself, with a great swish of narrative flourish, as a piece of Woodward-style “body language”.

Gevisser ought to know better. He himself said in the Sunday Times this week: “It takes many years to write a serious biography because you are constructing a narrative out of fact, and if you don’t have a piece of fact with which to tell the narrative, you have to go out into the world and get it.” But this go-and-get principle applies as well to analysis, even more so than to narrative. Competent analysis of the opinions of Mbeki on Aids requires attention to the opinions that Mbeki, in fact, expressed. Gevisser and his self-styled army of researchers failed to “go out into the word” to get these answers, which might have helped him to contextualise the Castro Hlongwane document, alongside other relevant evidence, such as the Financial Times interview.

Instead he converted Mbeki’s delivery of a document, which was, in fact, Mbeki’s invitation to analysis, into a “fact”, self-sufficient in itself to demonstrate Mbeki’s hopelessly ill-defined “Aids dissidence”. This was an enormous failure of intellectual energies by Gevisser: an intellectual flabbiness. It was also a lost opportunity to bring authority and clarity to one of the most vexed chapters of South Africa’s post-1994 history. As it is, the president was left scrambling to repair the renewed damage occasioned by Gevisser’s distortion of his Aids policy initiatives. Presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga pointed out in a letter published by Business Day on November 18 2007: “Hajra Omarjee fails adequately to separate the opinions of the author, Mark Gevisser, from the opinions of President Thabo Mbeki, when she writes that ‘Gevisser says Mbeki spoke of his denialism as recently as June this year when he again questioned the link between HIV and Aids’.”

The truth is, as I demonstrate in the detailed analysis of Fit to Govern, that Mbeki is not now, nor has he ever been, a denier of the pandemic, nor of the link between HIV and Aids.


  • Ronald Suresh Roberts is the author of Clarence Thomas and the Tough Love Crowd: Counterfeit Heroes and Unhappy Truths (New York University Press, 1995), Reconciliation Through Truth: A Reckoning of Apartheid's Criminal Governance (with Kader and Louise Asmal; preface by Nelson Mandela, 1996); No Cold Kitchen: A Biography of Nadine Gordimer (2005) and Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki (2007). He is a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, and of Harvard Law School.


  1. MidaFo MidaFo 24 November 2007

    Dave’s post is thoughtful. But it does seem to speak from on high, like the voice of God, but unlike God, after the event.

    I do not see how Mbeki can be judged as so many hysterical posts have done and so many cold people do. The matter is a complex one and the history of Africa is one of horrible exploitation by the West. The resultant distrust of Western institutions exacerbated by the very high costs of the relevant drugs, the history of experimentation in the form of field trials in Africa, the blame culture that pointed fingers at Africans, the racism of the Whites in Africa and so on and on, created a situation in which it is simply ridiculous to blame it all on Mbeki. Western initiatives are justifiably regarded with deep suspicion here. I certainly distrust them and feel that this is justified, especially when they pontificate. Others in the world share this distrust.

    The fact remains that terms like dissident and denialist are not helpful. They are used by people who point fingers at others in order to hide their own guilt by denying the validity of others, which is the way terrorist is used and we can see the resultant stupid behaviour of the West in real time in current events. This in the end makes Dave’s post worse than irrelevant, for what is the sense of writing it if all it does is help him deny co-responsibility and common humanity? Dissidence refers to disagreement with regards to established opinion. To examine, question and doubt established opinion is not dissidence, especially when the opinion is to a large extent imported and the event still unfolding. It can be said that Dave and others are guilty of denialism and dissidence when they bring these words to the debate.

    The question of Mbeki is central to this issue. What does help is to stop pointing fingers and to identify with the complexity; to understand the difficulty any victim of such a devastating plague has in dealing with it and to stand alongside him. Criticise and analyse and express opinion indeed but not in this damning fashion, because in doing so all you do is damn yourself.

    Come down to earth Dave. It is not ARV’s that will enable us in the future. It is this kind of identification; not the what so much as the how.

  2. MidaFo MidaFo 24 November 2007

    On consideration I see my posts are too long.

    In essence then:

    In the balance of all utterances it seems true to say that Mbeki looks and listens widely for solutions because his perception is that a purely clinical solution to the problem of AIDS right now and in the past in the reality that is SA is inadequate.

    Those who cannot afford doctors with facility, by and large Africans, will see the point. Those to whom a visit to the doctor is as just a short drive away seem incapable of understanding this.

    The solution is easy, just as the solution to unwanted pregnancies and abortion is. Those who reject his stance must get into their cars and go fetch the distressed individuals, comfort them emotionally and materially and take them to the doctor whenever necessary, again and again until the problem goes away. Cash is a lesser alternative, unless of course it is a lot of cash.

    More and more it seems that many who spend their time attacking Mbeki are the dissidents or denialists on this point.

    And to those who are intimately involved in the fight against AIDS and poverty, many of them underpaid, caring for them, fetching and carrying, educating and treating, please accept a thank you from this little man of great inadequacy, which I am sure everyone in this debate will endorse.

  3. John Savaga John Savaga 25 November 2007

    Mr Roberts I am not finished Savagadading you with my dead sheep because I am having fun doing it.

    You see I don’t buy your claims about interviews. Sounds to me like the letter you sent to Mbeki has that tone of disappointment that you missed out on a private moment with the Chief, and sipping that fine class of Whiskey – ‘met eish ya’.

    The reason I say so is because your slightly better book on Gordimer before you dumped her shows tons of evidence of how interviews played a role in your grand narrative of Gordimer. You didn’t object to the idea then – you are being a little disingenuous here. Sounds to me that you wanted to hob-nob with Gordimer’s big writer friends, and you wanted a free ticket which she gave you, but you couldn’t show gratitude. So somehow interviews did matter then.

    There are contradictions of these sorts also elsewhere. If, you care to read your Gordimer book again, and since I am such an avid fan of yours, you will find this debate you having now about dissidence and denialism hanging there quite loosely. Brink was then your big chum then – I don’t think his telling a lie here, you just engaging in conveniently denialism. (haha)

    I don’t think you were sure then what the clarification should be, and since you had little access to Mbeki you couldn’t have known what he thinks. Again, there isn’t the after-thought clarity you have now.

    In fact, if Gevisser’s comments didn’t come to the picture, the confusion would have lingered in your book to this day. In fact, it is rather thanks to Mbeki (and Gevisser) himself and from whom you quote that more clarity seems to surface. Although I think his dissidence is kind of cool because he challenges scientific conventions. I think much better than you do. It is hallmark of true intellectual, unlike you, because all you doing is covering your own confusions littered from the day you hung out with Brink, reflected both in your Gordimer book and Fit to Govern. You just spin-doctoring using Mbeki’s name in doing so.

    So, i am left wondering who are you really speaking for? I think you just want to rescue your book from your own self-inflicted confusions and finally distance yourself from your unhappy ‘fling’ with Brink because it did do you some damage and still is.

    Finally, don’t think you off the hook – that Oppenheimer chapter you deleted at the behest of Pahad I guarantee you will surface again.


    Your loving fan

    John Savaga

  4. ronald suresh roberts ronald suresh roberts 25 November 2007

    Johnnie S: Yawn.

  5. John Savaga John Savaga 25 November 2007

    Yeh, Big Yawn to you Mr Confused Intellectual.

  6. David Le Page David Le Page 25 November 2007

    All this discussion about whether Mbeki is denialist or dissident is utterly irrevelevant to the facts of his abject failure as a leader in respect of HIV. In the time of his office, the number of South Africans who have been killed by this virus has risen to over two million. In all that time, Mbeki has never expressed any public dismay over the scale of this tragedy, nor has he done what we might reasonably expect from a someone who is not a denialist:
    – He has not opted to take a public HIV test, as have the prime minister of Lesotho, and Kader Asmal and his wife, and a pathetic handful of other ANC politicians.
    – He has never encouraged South African men to use condoms.
    – He has not encouraged people to get tested for HIV, to take ARVs, to report side-effects.
    – He has opted to join a nation intent on sticking its head in the sand by spending an obscene amount of money on a soccer tournament, while public hospitals groan and fall apart. In this respect, he is no leader, but simply a follower. The county is denial, and he joins in happily.
    – He has not opted for a national policy of Universal Voluntary Counselling and Testing, as even our tiny, impoverished neighbour Lesotho has done.
    – He has utterly failed to show compassion, vision, leadership or imagination equal to the scale of the disaster of HIV.

    If this were a true democracy, then it would be a country that holds the lives of each and every citizen to be as precious as the next. It most manifestly is not. Under Mbeki’s “governance”, as was reported on this website a couple of weeks ago, economic inequality in South Africa has actually grown since 1994. And economic inequality, quite simply, means human sufffering.

    We need massive additional investment in health and education – the two foundations of a society and economy that respects its citizens. We need health to become a pillar of society as it is in Cuba, and education to be a pillar as it is in the many countries that value teachers highly and pay them very well. We do not need leaders who value ideas and their bizarre notions of intellectual integrity over human life.

    Mbeki is indeed guilty of culpable homicide on a terrifying scale; and a more humane country or world would not shrink from this blindingly obviously judgement. Roberts’ devotion to erecting smokescreens around our charlatan president make him nothing more than an accomplice.

  7. Reuben Maphutha Reuben Maphutha 26 November 2007

    Suresh does not and he has not dispute the fact that HIV/AIDS is a matter that needs scientific attention. What he seeks to show is that there’s a growing confusion of terms pasted on Mbeki about the AIDS debate. True, that people are dying from AIDS and it’s a sad fact. But here a man such as Mbeki is being crucified with terms and definitions on the AIDS issue and Suresh needs a subject to show the alarming confusion and he needs Mbeki to do that.

    Let’s face it. Mbeki never said and I don’t think he will ever say that AIDS doesn’t exist. What he only did was to question the traditional understanding on the AIDS issue and this is actually where this list of definitions was born. I have no doubt that those who want Mbeki out of politics wants something they can to paint Mbeki in the publics eyes and the only viable thing is AIDS and poverty.

    Denialism, dessidency, holocaust, etc is just a strategy to say: “Hey chap you can’t govern”.

  8. jason jason 26 November 2007

    RSR: Is Myburgh right? Did you plagiarise? Does your silence signal defeat? Did Pahad ask for stuff to be deleted, or not?

    Careful of your responses … they may be used against in court. Though, I am curious to know your responses. So fire away …

  9. Gerrie Hugo Gerrie Hugo 26 November 2007

    “…Mbeki’s stance is that and what Mbeki meant when he said the following was…”
    Jösses people!
    You should read what hogwash you sprout sometimes.
    Let Mbeki speak for himself!
    If he (Mbeki) was not a dissident and/or denialist and if he had any concern about HIV and AIDS then surely he would react violently to anyone depicting him in this negative manner.
    Mbeki’s silence is thus proof that he is a denialist. He could not care less what the world thinks about his stance on HIV and AIDS.
    Or does he not read the papers?
    Anyone trying to score brownie points out of this debate should just consider whether you want your grandchildren to learn at school about that ‘clever intellectual called Ronnie Roberts.’
    I shudder at the thought and refuse to give him any further recognition by responding to his opinions.
    All should do the same.
    Let him preach into the wind.
    That will be torture enough.

  10. John Savaga John Savaga 26 November 2007

    Good question Jason — see how he never answers the tricky ones because he knows somebody knows something. He can’t easily spin doctor his way around these.

    Let’s see what he writes: He still never answered my questions about the Castro document, nor about his take on Cheryl Carolus buying BEE shares in De Beers.

    Quiet as a dodgy mouse I would say.

  11. MFB MFB 26 November 2007

    Well, after looking at Myburgh’s hysterical little screed, it’s clear to me that Roberts has read Brink’s book and has used some of the quotes which Brink used. That’s standard scholarly practice; it ain’t plagiarism if you don’t use the other guy’s words. (Although it does look as if Roberts might have used Brink’s translation of an article in Afrikaans; however it’s going to be hard for Brink to prove it, since the translation is bog-standard.)

    Right-wingers love making accusations of plagiarism; it’s probably the longest word that their peanut-sized brains can fathom. But none of it invalidates two obvious points; Roberts’ book stands on its merits (unlike some parts of Gevisser’s, although only some parts) and Brink really needs to go back on his medication, however much he denies that Western medicine works.

  12. John Savaga John Savaga 26 November 2007

    Dear MFB

    I read Brink’s 400 odd pages on Roberts. I must admit I couldn’t keep up. There was so much in it. I think the courts would be a better judge of it. What is more interesting for me is why Roberts never acknowledged Brink, and why he fell out with Brink?

    You see that history is crucial – the timing of it all. I am told it happened after the DA put out their hit-list of AiDs denialist – Roberts featured on the list.He seemed to be a bit shaken by that.

    But Brink was still his friend, even after that shake-up, and Brink says in his book he and Roberts sort of held hands during the famous court case where the Judge called Roberts all sorts of names.

    I have the suspicion Roberts was with Brink all the way until he decided that this AIDS Denialism stuff is not going to do his career any good nor his thesis in his book.

    That’s when Brink was betrayed. But anyway the truth will come out in the courts – it will be kind of fun to watch. I hope they put it up live on TV like they did the Rugby. I think these two deserve each.

    But MBF I don’t think it’s only right-wing people who try to get their enemies with plagiarism claims. Roberts keeps on baggering Gumede about this – by your logic does it mean Roberts too has a peanut-sized brain. You see I don’t think you mean that MBF. Afterall, we are both fans of Roberts. Maybe you need to think more carefully through your logic.

  13. Lukhanyo L Mbande Lukhanyo L Mbande 26 November 2007

    Mr Roberts I respect you chief for the powerful writing skills you have. I wish tha you can take Mondli Makhanya to the school of journalism that you went to. You are well-read and every analysis you make is based on the fact you have. For me reading your article in fact was more insightful than all weekend columnist combined. Its a pity that some people have accepted that Mbeki is the devil and even if you can convince them otherwise they will never change. Let me also say that it is not a mistake that Mbeki is misquoted but it is a deliberate attempt to weaken his argument. The evidence of that is when you read what the media says about him and you correlate with what he has actually said. I think the problem here is the way Mbeki projected himself after Mandela because all the powerful figures expected the country to collapse economically after Mandela but instead the economy started to boom. Even if you can trace the hatred for Mbeki started when the media swa that their prophets of doom are not materialising and the next best thing to do was to create false alarm so that they can sell papers. We must also understand that every media house is happy when the government collapse because that translate to business to them especially print-media. If you don’t believe page your newspaper headlines and look at those that rteports on development happening around the and you will find very little becasue this media likes corruption and crime and care less about development. The Prez also created enemies by refusing to be interviewd by every journalist and I support him on that because if you look now at how he is misrepresented by these journalist you will notice that they are not good. Lastly Mbeki has advisors close to him and when it comes to matters of medical science you will understand that he will need a view of an expect in that field as a basis of his research and formulate an understanding which translate to a coherent argument. Do people honestly think that the President will deliberately allow his people of whom he sacrificed everything he had to make sure that they are liberated die willy-nilly? The majority of his detractors now including Vavi and Blade are people who never lifted a finger in the struggle and were content with apartheid if it meant them joining the fighters but now they speak with authority as if they cared about people.

  14. aktshabalala aktshabalala 21 December 2007

    Mr Suresh Roberts,
    If I could draw again from many of my predictions. I told you, you had cost us a Presidency. What is your forward from now. A friend of mine informs me you could not stay to see close of the day.
    Do not worry, we will now have to rally behind both TM and JZ. After all you found us struggling along and, for sure without you, we will thrive along.
    Now we are reaping the results of your scholarly writings.

  15. abduraghiem johnstone abduraghiem johnstone 29 January 2008

    Mbeki has never been an aids denialist therefore he cannot be a dissident.
    What about a coherent campaign stripped of the icons, celerities and …..
    I hope now that you have (re)reviewed Mbeki’s meaning that the government intervenes and together with other partners attack the scourge.

  16. Native88 Native88 10 February 2008

    Could be possible that Mbeki has been a victim of bad media?

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