The news of the death of former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang broke on Twitter soon after lunch, and it was fun watching the back-and-forth between the editors and the public as the media frantically searched for someone to confirm the rumours. There was even a moment of drama as some claimed that Manto wasn’t in fact dead.
It seemed like the balloon boy hoax was happening all over again. But her death was confirmed, and the ensuing scandal was nipped in the bud. A contingent of South Africans, led by that twit Gareth Cliff expressed glee at the news of the passing of Manto. You can read Cliff’s reaction here. Have a bucket to vomit into ready, because you’ll need it.
Here are my feelings on Manto. She was barking mad at times and her madness (let’s not forget Mbeki here) indirectly lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive South Africans. Some estimates say that her refusal to allow a roll-out of antiretrovirals may have indirectly caused the deaths of as many as 330 000 people. That is unbelievably tragic, and an indictment on the ANC, on Thabo Mbeki and on herself. Perhaps it’s an indictment on us as a country as well. How could we let her do this? I was happy when Mbeki lost power, and rejoiced when Manto was removed as health minister. I had been hoping that Mbeki and Manto may some day have to answer for their Aids denialism that cost so many people their lives. As it is, she’s gone now and we will never know what went through her mind all those years when she had the power to do something about the scourge of HIV/Aids, and yet chose to ignore the problem. Yet I don’t feel any sense of satisfaction at the news of her passing.
I disagreed wholeheartedly with her stance on HIV/Aids, but I didn’t rejoice at the news of her death. I felt a small sense of sadness, in that one of South Africans greatest comic figures, one who had fuelled and inspired so many rants, blogs and articles of mine is now gone. Like her or not, she occupied a great space in our collective consciousness as a country. Even though the last year of her life was spent in relative obscurity, she was once a big deal. To me, it’s like hearing that the bad-tempered, elderly neighbour has passed. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I mourn her death, but I certainly don’t rejoice because of it.
So it was with much disgust that I read the reactions of Cliff and many others. Metaphorically dancing on her dead body isn’t going to bring back those who died because of her policies. To me, it shows low character, churlishness and a basic lack of humanity. Tshabalala-Msimang has friends and family that she leaves behind, can’t we show respect to them? Yes, we should mourn those who died of Aids, particularly those who were denied treatment because of Manto’s stance. But that gives us no right to piss all over her body, so to speak. I would urge Cliff and the other gleeful scoffers to show ubuntu. The time for rejoicing was last year, when Manto lost her job. Doing it now is simply grotesque.
The ambit of every person’s personal liberty should be expanded to include the freedom to decide on the timing of their death