Monday, July 18, 2016

Durban Ohio

The GOP (Grand Old Party or Republican Party) convention opens in Cleveland today, and half a world away the International AIDS Conference opens in Durban South Africa. The contrasts between the contexts that these two gatherings are taking place in are striking. The AIDS conference proclaiming the possibility of a future free of one of the most damaging scourges the world has ever known while standing atop a mound of damage caused by years of denialism fueled by misogyny, homophobia, and organic ignorance. The GOP appear to be standing on a lump of damage proclaiming how, by making that lump a mountain, they will be able to see into the future.

In the mid-2000s South Africa placed itself at the apex of world HIV denialism. The president of South Africa - Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki- was claiming special knowledge of HIV/AIDS to whomever would listen. His views were echoed by the Minister of Health - Dr. Mantombazana 'Manto' Edmie Tshabalala-Msimang - he had appointed. Mbeki’s denialism went beyond a basic refutation of the link between HIV and AIDS; Mbeki had a sure-fire cure for HIV infection that would prevent AIDS.

Mbeki had served as Nelson Mandela’s deputy for his five years in office, and would go on to serve as president for nine. Manto had used her medical training and public heath degree (from The University of Antwerp) to nurture the health and wellbeing of ANC militants in Tanzania. Manto went on to serve a year with Mbeki’s successor. These were not marginalized or unrespected individuals; they had served with distinction in the ANC, and were leading the ANC in the creation of a post-apartheid South African nation.

Nelson Mandela did little to address the AIDS epidemic in South Africa during his five years as president (1994-1999), even though the prevalence of HIV positive people in the country had ballooned from about 1% when he was released from prison in 1990 to 10% when he left office. Mandela identified AIDS as a problem after he left office, and in 2005 he made it the very personal focus of the last chapters of his life; in 2005 he announced to the world that his son had died of AIDS.

Almost in response to Mandela’s heartfelt plea the Mbeki administration released a list of common items that could prevent HIV infection from advancing to “AIDS defining conditions”. These items included:

  • Garlic
  • Lemon Juice
  • Beetroot
  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

Magic concoctions were also being “made available” for a fee. One of the most famous was a proprietary mix of 89 herbs called “uBhejane” that was promoted throughout the early 2000s by Obed Mlaba while he was mayor of Durban.

The current AIDS conference laments the over 350,000 deaths attributed to adoption of these irrational and ineffective treatments, and the explosion of new infections facilitated by the large infected population. It is believed that as many as one in five people in South Africa are HIV positive; giving it the highest infection rate in the world.

Mix stupidity with real world problems, and the results can be HUGE.

It is a shockingly similar toxic mixture that being presented in Cleveland this week.

I do not know whether to be encourage or disheartened by the idea that so many major figureheads of the republican party are boycotting the convention. Do they think that by not showing up the possibility of a Trump presidency will be substantially reduced? Do they think that without their input the party platform will be less egregiously damaging to the advancement of western civilization?

I would think that responsible republicans would show up and try to clean up as much of the euphemistic crap on the metaphorical red carpet as they could before it festered into the possibility of law.

They could do a lot without showing up. How about filling a Supreme Court vacancy or passing some kind of immigration reform?

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