Speculation about an individual’s health is often viewed as invasive, impolite and disrespectful, writes Akhona Cira in JournAIDS. But if the person in question is arguably responsible for the death of thousands of South Africans and she is the advocate of healthy eating and good nutrition to keep hospitals away, etiquette be damned.
Akhona Cira writes in JournAIDS:

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s health has been the subject of speculation since she was admitted to hospital last year. Her subsequent return to office earlier this year was played down and she hasn’t said anything controversial in two months. That alone, without her return to hospital last week Tuesday, was cause for worry because she is never short of words when talking about HIV/AIDS.

When IOL reported that she had been an object of “pity and embarrassment” during a press conference, there was no stopping the trail of reportage that culminated in her hospital admission .

According to her doctors, Tshabalala-Msimang is being treated for anaemia and pleural effusion (an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the pleural cavity – a fluid-filled space surrounding the lungs).

The Cape Argus reported that Tshabalala-Msimang is also set to undergo a “battery of tests” to get to the root of her illness.

Also important is the Democratic Alliance’s impatience with Tshabalala-Msimang’s illness. In a distasteful statement, Diane Kohler-Barnard said the Minister should be removed from office “before she dies there”. The Star reported her saying:

“Public works ran down to a terrible extent because Stella Sigcau was so ill, and I feel that we cannot, as a nation, afford to allow our health ministry to go the same way. All the spin doctors are saying (her prolonged stay in hospital last year) was a lung infection, but no lung infection is going to make you incoherent.”

Although the immediate removal of Tshabalala-Msimang would be most welcome, Kohler-Barnard was insensitive just like the media have been in their coverage. Just because she is what she is, does not mean we have to all turn into monsters.

Sad as it is that Tshabalala-Msimang is ill, her indisposition could be the best news for South Africa and particularly the scourge of HIV and AIDS. But Jeff Radebe’s appointment as the acting minister of health was not received well.

The Treatment Action Campaign told IOL that is was not confident that Radebe could handle the transport ministry as well as the health ministry.

“We point this out [Radebe’s lack of time to dedicate to the health ministry] because last year when the minister was absent, an acting minister was appointed. This measure did not resolve the leadership problem in the department, not even in the interim,” said a TAC statement.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) also expressed concerns about Radebe’s appointment, also citing time constraints as the main factor the whole thing might not work. The DA’s Gareth Morgan said on Tuesday:

“But Transport Minister Jeff Radebe is unlikely to have enough time available to tackle the numerous problems besetting the health department. The DA believes that the president should rather have appointed a minister from a portfolio less in need of such constant management as transport.”

Frankly, I think Mbeki is still smarting form the embarrassment of being called to test for HIV by Madlala-Routledge and that is why he did not appoint her. His alternative views about HIV and AIDS have clearly not diminished and Madlala-Routledge’s approach to the fight against HIV and AIDS is not to our p resident’s liking. – Akhona Cira