AIDS in South Africa

It is very easy for intellectuals and politicians to make grandiose statements about the universality of exploitation. Ironically, it is this ability of theirs that alienates them from the masses. For the hoi polloi, exploitation is not a theory that is analyzed – it is a way of life. The common people do not need a philosophical or theoretical gloss in understanding exploitation because they are already being exploited almost every day of their lives (Brittan, 1978). The blacks in South Africa are one example that will validate the aforementioned arguments.

They do not need to verbalize their exploited state, as evidences of their situation are all around them. Their everyday routines are marked by alienation – corrupt law-enforcement agencies, Apartheid legislation, police brutality, unfair labor practices in mines and factories (Brittan, 1978). At present, they are also at the exploited end in the AIDS epidemic in their country. The AIDS Emergency in South Africa AIDS is currently an epidemic in South Africa. As of 2003, about 40 million South Africans were infected with HIV while at least 20 million died of AIDS (Abdool Karim, 2005).

By 2006, AIDS had already caused about 71% of deaths among South Africans between 15 and 49 years old. These figures were not without dire economic consequences – it was also predicted in 2006 that an estimated 60-70% of medical expenditure in South African hospitals would be allocated for HIV-positive patients (AVERT, 2009). Mbeki: Issue over People Worsening the AIDS crisis in South Africa is President Thabo Mbeki’s ambivalent attitude towards it. He has earned the ire of the South African public because he spent more time “arguing over the issue (instead of) treating people” (BBC News, 2000).

Mainstream scientists and medical experts from various parts of the world criticized Mbeki in 2000 due to his outrageous opinion that “HIV is not the sole cause of AIDS” (BBC News, 2000). While Mbeki believed that HIV contributed to the collapse of the immune system, other factors such as poverty and poor nutrition should also be taken into consideration (BBC News, 2000). Due to Mbeki’s frequent contentions on the actual cause of AIDS, official response to South Africa’s AIDS crisis was slow and inefficient.

The government, for one, refused to supply pregnant women with the antiretroviral drugs AZT or Nevirapine in order to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This decision was very imprudent, considering that about 5,000 HIV-positive infants are born every month in South Africa (BBC News, 2000). In addition, Mbeki rejected appeals to declare the AIDS epidemic in South Africa a national emergency – a measure that would have allowed the government to manufacture or buy cheaper generic versions of antiretroviral drugs despite patents owned by foreign pharmaceutical firms.

In a 2001 speech to the South African parliament, Mbeki stated that any immediate plans to declare AIDS a national emergency were unnecessary. Furthermore, his regime had already come up with a program that would address the country’s AIDS epidemic. At the time of the speech, the said program was already before the South African courts (Barrow, 2001). But international pharmaceutical companies in South Africa blocked the above-mentioned legislation. They took legal action to oppose the government’s right to override drug patents and come up with cheaper generic versions of drugs for all ailments, including HIV/AIDS (Barrow, 2001).

The victory of the pharmaceutical companies over the South African government would therefore result in more cases of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. Given the country’s unemployment rate of about 25%, it would obviously be impossible for the average South African to afford branded antiretroviral drugs (BBC News, 2008). Profit over Public Health Critics pointed out that the real reason behind Mbeki’s hesitant stance in the issue of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa is the fear of “(scaring off) needed foreign investment or (raising questions) about (his regime’s) commitment to free markets” (Client File, n.

d. ). Furthermore, AIDS remains to be a taboo subject in South African culture. It is impossible to discuss AIDS without offending religious and or cultural sensibilities. In the end, these hindrances result in inconsistent policies that confuse people and delay much-needed government action (Youde, 2007). Attracting As Much Foreign Investments as Possible The AIDS epidemic in South Africa renders the country undesirable for foreign investments. Sick leave, productivity loss, providing medical benefits, training replacement workers – all these take a financial toll on South African enterprises.

Adding to these liabilities is the “AIDS tax” or the 0. 4-5. 9% increase in a company’s wage or operating costs due to the epidemic. The “AIDS tax” was intended to ensure that Persons Living with AIDS (PLWAs) would be able to afford the high costs associated with the disease (Youde, 2007). The South African economy, therefore, is at the mercy of foreign companies who would be willing to invest despite the epidemic. Given this reality, it is no longer surprising if Mbeki’s economic policies would prioritize foreign investors before his own constituents.

Should the foreign investors in South Africa leave, nobody will take their place. Local entrepreneurs don’t have the capacity to replace them, as they are sick with AIDS themselves. AIDS and Silence: A Formula for Political Popularity Before and during his term as the President of post-apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela paid little attention to the issue of AIDS. Such reticence is very surprising, considering that he lost his own son to the disease. Mandela, however, had no choice – elders in his culture were not supposed to publicly discuss sexual issues.

Breaking this social norm would most probably reverse his victory in the 1994 elections and make him lose his popularity among the South African public while in office (Youde, 2007). As Mandela’s deputy president, Mbeki also effectively ignored AIDS. Akin to Mandela’s, Mbeki’s son died of the ailment. But Mbeki was more afraid of provoking the conservative sectors of South African society and losing popularity in the process. As a result, Mbeki’s presidency was associated with AIDS denialism and misinformation.

Apart from claiming that HIV is not the only cause of AIDS, he also argued that antiretroviral drugs were harmful and unsafe and that HIV was not easily transmitted from women to men (Finkel, 2007). Conclusion Indeed, exploitation for the masses is not a glossy theory but a way of life. They no longer need to analyze exploitation as a concept because their very existence is already the definition of what exploitation is. Although blacks make up majority of the South African population, they remain alienated from their mostly-black leaders.

In the context of the country’s AIDS epidemic, this alienation is a result of denial and subservience to foreign interests. In order to appease conservative sectors of South African society, both Mandela Mbeki remained silent on the issue of AIDS. To be able to retain foreign investments in South Africa, Mbeki withheld much-needed government support from HIV/AIDS victims. In the process, the blacks (who constituted majority of South Africa’s AIDS victims) were left with no other choice but to suffer and die in silence.

Who says the hoi polloi still has to be educated regarding the concept of exploitation? References Abdool Karim, S. S. (2005). HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. AVERT. (2009, February 20). HIV and AIDS in South Africa. Retrieved March 2, 2009, from http://www. avert. org/aidssouthafrica. htm BBC News. (2000, September 20). Mbeki Digs In on AIDS. Retrieved March 2, 2009, from http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/africa/934435. stm Barrow, G. BBC News. (2001, March 14). Mbeki Rejects AIDS Emergency Measures.

Retrieved March 2, 2009, from http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/africa/1220434. stm BBC News. (2008, October 23). South Africa’s Poverty “Emergency. ” Retrieved March 2, 2009, from http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/africa/7685253. stm Brittan, A. (1978). The Privatised World. New York: Routledge. Finkel, M. L. (2007). Truth, Lies and Public Health: How We Are Affected When Science and Politics Collide. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group. Youde, J. R. (2007). AIDS, South Africa and the Politics of Knowledge. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. [File supplied by client]

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