The appointment of Barbara Hogan and Dr Molefi Sefularo as health minister and deputy minister marks the end of “the period of politically supported AIDS denialism”. This is according to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which has welcomed the “excellent appointments”.

Former minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has been moved to the President’s Office, thus ending her rule as one of the most controversial and destructive Cabinet ministers. Under her, morale at the health department plummeted as she courted quacks and promoted traditional concoctions, vitamins and nutrition as substitutes for antiretroviral medicine, causing widespread confusion.

“We are confident that Hogan has the ability to improve the South African health system. She has been one of the few Members of Parliament to speak out against AIDS denialism and to offer support to the TAC, even during the worst period of AIDS denialism by former President Thabo Mbeki and former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang,” said Tshabalala-Msimang’s nemesis, the TAC’s Zackie Achmat.

“On 14 February 2003, she received the TAC memorandum to President Mbeki for a treatment plan. She was removed as Finance Portfolio Chairperson by Mbeki in part for her stand on HIV/AIDS. She has a reputation for being hard-working, competent and principled.”

Hogan was serenaded by a group of TAC supporters, including Achmat, outside her flat in Gardens last night. She came down to greet the activists who sang and delivered speeches full of praise.

“I have no background in health, but ANC told me that is precisely why they want me in this job. They are clear, they want health delivery, they want things to improve,” the diminutive woman said, before joining in singing and dancing.

Hogan, who grew up in Benoni on the East Rand, joined the ANC in 1977. At the time, she was involved in the trade union movement and supplied the ANC with information about the unions.She was detained in 1981 and held in solitary confinement for a year. She was then tried and found guilty of high treason and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

After serving eight years, she was released in 1990, a week after the ANC was unbanned. She became the first secretary of the ANC of the then PWV province. She was elected to Parliament in 1994. She has served as Chair of Finance Portfolio Committee and the Standing Committee on the Auditor-General.

Hogan is the long-term partner of ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada. She is renowned for her hard work and is on the left of the ANC and close to Pregs Govender, the former ANC MP who resigned in protest against the arms deal.

An independent thinker, Hogan was consistently passed over by Mbeki who, with few exceptions, preferred to promote white South Africans with no previous ties with the ANC.

She will bring to the health department much needed organisational, management and financial skills as well as a sound, orthodox approach to HIV/AIDS. However, she is likely to clash with health director general Thami Mseleku, a Tshabalala-Msimang acolyte and traditionalist.

Dr Molefi Sefularo complements Hogan by bringing sound medical knowledge to the ministry. A medical doctor who qualified at Medunsa, Sefularo also has diplomas in tropical medicine, public health and health service management.

“At least 300,000 deaths could have been avoided had the president merely met the most basic constitutional requirements…”

Born in Potchefstroom in the North West in 1957, Sefularo was deputy superintendent of Thusong Hospital in former Boputhatswana in the early 1980s. Formerly active in the Azanian Students Movement, Sefularo – at the time known as Paul – joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 and played a very active role in undermining Lucas Mangope’s Bop government. His activities led him to be detained a number of times.

In 1994, Sefularo was appointed MEC for Health in the North West and has been part of the province’s ANC leadership since then. During his time as health MEC, Sefularo claimed that Mbeki had been “misunderstood” on HIV/AIDS.

“The President has never denied either the existence of AIDS nor the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS. He has never said that HIV does not cause AIDS,” said Sefularo in a speech in 2001.

“What we are saying or asking is: What is it about us in Sub‑Saharan Africa, about the HIV virus, about our condition, culture, beliefs, our relationship to the rest of the world and our response to the HIV that has allowed AIDS to so catastrophically destroy individuals, families and communities to a point where it is possible that our economic development, freedom, security and our very existence as a people and a nation may be reduced to nothing? That is the challenge.”

After serving two terms as health MEC, Sefularo became a Member of the national Parliament and was a Whip. He was part of the task team that drafted the new government strategic plan on HIV/AIDS 2007-2011. Recently, he was elected onto the provincial leadership of the ANC. Interestingly, he is associated with the Mbeki faction of the ANC in the province.

The TAC’s Achmat said that Dr Sefularo, during his tenure as MEC for Health of North West Province, had “supported ARV rollout and the implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) in the province”.

The TAC has warned of “tremendous challenges ahead for Hogan and Sefularo”. It said that over two million South Africans had died of AIDS during the Mbeki’s rule.

“At least 300,000 deaths could have been avoided had the president merely met the most basic constitutional requirements.

“Instead Mbeki and his health minister pursued a policy of politically supported AIDS denialism and undermined the scientific governance of medicine. Many more people would have died had it not been for the campaign for treatment and the independence of our courts, which ultimately forced Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang to implement an HIV treatment plan.

“The inequalities of the apartheid system, the HIV epidemic and the utterly disastrous reign of Tshabalala-Msimang have left the health system in a parlous state. Hogan’s biggest challenges will be to meet the treatment and prevention targets of the HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan, integrate TB and HIV treatment, develop a feasible human resources plan for health workers and undo the considerable legacy of AIDS denialism left by her predecessor,” said Achmat, pledging his organisation’s support to meet these challenges.

By Kerry Cullinan

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