Disclosures around the Health Minister's drinking habits are in the public interest, says Business Day in an editorial.  But the truth of the claims has become secondary to the political battle around Manto Thsabalala-Msimang, and are unlikely to be clearly established.

Business Day writes in an editorial on 23 August:

SOME years ago a Johannesburg newspaper published a front-page headline announcing that President Thabo Mbeki was a “womaniser”.

The newspaper and the writer were roundly, and probably rightly, condemned. As the president was not in the habit of lecturing citizens on the sanctity of marriage, it would have been impossible to argue that this news was in the public interest, which is a test any editor would have to apply to information about the private lives of the rich and famous. Anything else is gossip.

In the case of the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, we feel our sister paper, the Sunday Times, is right, however, to argue that its recent allegations about the minister’s drinking habits are indeed in the public interest (and, happily of course for the paper, of interest to the public).

The minister is guardian of the nation’s health system and the values we hold about health. One of those values is that too much alcohol is bad for you and the minister has often preached it. Hypocrisy in politicians must always be exposed.

But (other Sunday Times allegations, including her having been found guilty of theft in Botswana, aside), what is the likelihood that the drinking stories are true?

Unfortunately drink is a big factor in our lives in SA. Abuse is widespread and no one is immune, not ministers or presidents, not journalists or editors, not the God-fearing and not their priests. Most of us drink too much.

Now that the Manto saga has become a political battle — for victory rather than the truth — it’s unlikely to yield much more than entertainment for the rest of us. It’s worth thanking the stars though that members of the cabinet are supplied with drivers.