ADDRESS BY DEPUTY PRESIDENT ZUMA AT
THE X111TH AIDS CONFERENCE GALA DINNER, 11 July 2000
Issued by Office of the Deputy President
The Chairman of the Conference
His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini
The Premier of KwaZulu Natal
Government Ministers and Officials
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to begin by thanking the organisers of
this conference for having chosen our country, and indeed
our continent, to host this International AIDS Conference
for the first time in its history.
The gravity of the AIDS epidemic precludes any form
of celebration, but we are none-the-less hugely grateful
to you and to the many other international organisations,
that continue to show confidence in our country, and
us, by electing to hold such important gatherings here
in Durban and elsewhere in our country. This gives hope
and encouragement to us.
On behalf of our government and our people, I would
like to welcome you all to South Africa. I am confident
that your recognition of our country's capabilities
will be rewarded by a successful conference that takes
the HIV/AIDS struggle a step further.
Ladies and Gentlemen, most of us here are quite familiar
with reports which suggest that Sub-Saharan Africa faces
one of the highest growth rates in HIV/AIDS infection
world-wide. It is fitting, therefore that the conference
should, at this point in time, be held on the African
continent, particularly in Southern Africa. It provides
a great opportunity for us to focus our attention on
the epidemic and its impact on this region.
One of the confounding elements of HIV/AIDS has been
the stark difference in the manner in which the epidemic
manifests itself in the developed world, and in the
developing world. Thus it is clear that, in addition
to individual risk-taking behaviour, in our country,
and perhaps the continent, many other social factors,
including poverty, migrancy, gender imbalances and social
deprivation, contribute as determinants of the extent
and rate of the epidemic.
What this means is that, solutions lie, not in a single
approach from a single entity, but rather in a broad
response from a range of stakeholders. Fighting a disease
that cannot be overcome by medical interventions alone,
but whose path is also decided by a range of social
factors, makes it that much harder for human society
Having said this, it is important to emphasise that
our own government's commitment to dealing decisively
with HIV/AIDS remains unwavering. We have made our position
clear on this issue repeatedly over a number of years.
It is saddening, therefore, to observe that valuable
time is being used during this conference for debate
on issues that we have never raised or have refuted
time and again. Our government does not, and has never,
questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. Neither do
we say that drugs should not be made available to pregnant
women and other people who have contracted the virus.
What we have said repeatedly is that the drugs that
have proved so effective in combating the spread of
HIV/AIDS in developed countries are very costly for
such large-scale intervention in the developing world.
We simply do not have the required resources. We have
then gone on to question whether there exist other ways
to deal with the epidemic that would work better given
We have taken a conscious decision to go beyond conventional
wisdom and to leave no stone unturned in our quest for
a permanent solution. We have done this because as government
we want to take informed policy decisions on this matter.
What we expect from those with the expertise, is for
them to provide the answers that will appropriately
inform our decision-making processes.
Clearly, without the support of broader society, nationally
and internationally, governments cannot by themselves
realistically respond to the epidemic successfully.
It touches every person and every sphere of society,
and thus each sector has to mobilise its resources within
its particular arena to address issues of HIV/AIDS prevention,
treatment, care and support, human rights, education
and so on.
Reports suggest that countries that have demonstrated
a relatively successful response in the fight against
HIV/AIDS have employed a truly multi-sectoral approach,
with all government departments and the various sectors
of society mounting a visible and sustainable response
to the epidemic.
Our own government launched, in October 1998, the Partnership
Against AIDS where all South Africans were called upon
to "join hands in partnership against AIDS to save
our nation." This was our first effort to create
meaningful partnerships between government and civil
society in our fight against this epidemic.
Since then, many South Africans have committed themselves
to action. For some, these activities have involved
simple acts such as wearing the red ribbon and talking
more openly about the disease, so as to raise awareness
amongst those around them. For others, it has involved
developing strategies and programmes in the areas of
prevention, care and support.
However, there was still the need to have this partnership
between government and ordinary members of civil society
solidified in a way that enables meaningful interaction
and greater co-ordination. Therefore, in January this
year, we launched the South African National AIDS Council,
which comprises government ministers and senior officials,
as well as representatives from sixteen sectors of civil
These representatives identify, within their sectors'
programs and activities, areas of need, and then collaborate
with the relevant government departments or other sectors
that are in a position to meet that need. This provides
us with a good platform for greater co-ordination between
sectors, which is the main goal of the Council - to
drive a co-ordinated, multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS.
This work is done outside of the normal, day-to-day
activities of these men and women, with no remuneration.
They are to be commended for their dedication to the
fight against HIV/AIDS. They represent just one body
of effort, whose existence should never take the place
of each individual taking personal action against HIV/AIDS.
We do this because of our belief that our quest to
find answers to the vexing questions on this pandemic
must happen in tandem, and not in competition with our
This epidemic is much more than an issue for scientists
alone. It is an issue for the entire society, that encompasses
many areas of our lives. Thus, it is important that
when your conference puts forward suggested solutions,
these should include some thoughts on related social
and economic problems.
It is most unfortunate that some people seem incapable,
or unwilling, to understand the issues that are being
raised by our government and, therefore, miss the opportunity
to assist us in finding answers quickly.
People are still not applying their minds to the issues
raised by the President on Sunday, choosing instead
to cling to pre-conceived criticisms.
While most of the discourse on HIV/AIDS, to date, has
centred on the availability and affordability of drugs
for its treatment, until recently very little debate
and research seem to have taken place on the issue of
a vaccine. Vaccines have, in the past, proved to be
the most effective interventions in the face of similar
human disasters, completely eradicating diseases such
as smallpox and polio in many societies.
According to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative,
to which our own Vaccine Initiative is affiliated, less
than 2% of the 20 billion dollars spent on HIV/AIDS
goes towards HIV Vaccine research.
I believe that we would not be accused of desperate
optimism in suggesting that the time has come for the
international scientific community to turn more of their
energies towards exploring, more seriously and more
vigorously, the possibility of developing a vaccine
to end this epidemic once and for all.
How do we explain to an ordinary person that more than
twenty years after this disease began to impact on our
lives, our accepted solutions only centre on treatment
drugs so that little is being done to find a vaccine
against the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus?
We are, therefore, happy that there is now beginning
to resurface a body of scientists who place greater
emphasis on the speedy development of a vaccine.
Our government is currently collaborating with the
South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative, because we recognise
firstly, the need to effect a response to this pandemic
from all fronts and secondly, that our unique situation
in Africa requires that we move in the direction of
a lasting solution.
In the words of one such scientist, this new initiative
"creates a new paradigm of public-private partnership,
supplementing market forces with a public sector intervention
to create the tools needed to end this epidemic".
It is unfortunate that much of the struggle to find
a cure for HIV/AIDS rests largely with scientists, where
we, as government and civil society groups, can only
give support and ask questions seeking clarification.
The reaction of the scientists, therefore, to those
of us who will, from time to time, ask questions should
be one that seeks to take us on board so that this partnership
is strengthened and we can focus our collective energy
on the big prize - Winning the war against AIDS.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this conference would not have
done all its work if no discussion takes place on issues
of awareness, of people living with AIDS, support structures
for them and the most distressing issue of orphans.
This conference, therefore, ought to take us further
on these issues, to give direction as to how we are
to handle the expected millions of orphaned children.
We have achieved high levels of awareness in our communities.
The challenges that face this conference, upon which
its success will be measured are:
· Given the success of the awareness campaign
in tandem with a continuing rise in infection rates,
what is it that we need to do further to stop the spread
of this disease?
· Given the increase in the number of people
living with AIDS, what extra measures or programmes
are we to put in place to deal with their care and support?
· Given the projected increase in the number
of AIDS orphans, and limited resources in many developing
countries, what solutions or mechanisms are we going
to put in place to address this problem?
· Lastly, given the fact that so many scientists
and other experts are gathered here in Durban to discuss
this matter, what hope do we give to the world with
regard to the possibility of finding a lasting solution
to this major problem facing society?
People all over the world have lived for decades with
real hopelessness as a result of this disease. It is
now time for us to create the space for hope for our
people. I trust that this conference will provide the
hope that a lasting solution is indeed a possibility.
I thank you.