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2000: Mbeki’s Letter to World Leaders

In April 2000, the Washington Post published a hand-addressed letter sent by President Thabo Mbeki to world leaders defending his approach in dealing with HIV/AIDS. In it, he clearly showed his mistrust of Western solutions to the problem of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

"It is obvious that whatever lessons we have to and may draw from the West about the grave issue of HIV-AIDS, a simple superimposition of Western experience on African reality would be absurd and illogical. Such proceeding would constitute a criminal betrayal of our responsibility to our own people. It was for this reason that I spoke as I did in our parliament, in the manner in which I have indicated.

I am convinced that our urgent task is to respond to the specific threat that faces us as Africans. We will not eschew this obligation in favour of the comfort of the recitation of a catechism that may very well be a correct response to the specific manifestation of AIDS in the West. We will not, ourselves, condemn our own people to death by giving up the search for specific and targeted responses to the specifically African incidence of HIV-AIDS ..."

Mbeki also took the opportunity to liken the dissident scientists to "heretics that would be burnt at the stake!", and to conventional scientists as supporters of the apartheid regime:

"Not long ago, in our own country, people were killed, tortured, imprisoned and prohibited from being quoted in private and in public because the established authority believed that their views were dangerous and discredited.

We are now being asked to do precisely the same thing that the racist apartheid tyranny we opposed did, because, it is said, there exists a scientific view that is supported by the majority, against which dissent is prohibited."

The Washington Post described the response at the White House: "So stunned were some officials by the letter's tone and timing — during final preparations for July's [13th International AIDS] conference in Durban — that at least two of them, according to diplomatic sources, felt obliged to check whether it was genuine."