THABO Mbeki, who was chosen by Nelson Mandela to succeed him as president of South Africa, was once regarded by the West as a model African leader who would consolidate his country's status as the leading power of the continent.

But by the time he resigned from office last September there were serious doubts about his performance within South Africa and internationally. His insistence on monopolising the mediation role between President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai led to a power-sharing agreement which was duly signed but has proved inoperable; Zimbabwe is now a wrecked state, the economy ruined, freedom at a premium and a cholera epidemic threatening.

Yesterday Mr Mbeki's reputation took a further blow when a report by Harvard university about South Africa's HIV/Aids problem put the blame firmly on the former president for his refusal to accept the scientific consensus on the cause of Aids. The report says that more than 300'000 people have died unnecessarily as a result of the position Mbeki took in 2002 which meant that none of the free drugs and grants offered by the West were available to those who could have benefited from them. By contrast neighbouring countries such as Namibia and Botswana have achieved effective control of HIV/AIDS among more than 70 per cent of those affected. The Harvard claims are devastating to Mbeki's reputation but the researchers responsible for the report insist that their assessment is fully justified.


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