Aids dissident Peter Mokaba dies

By Charles Phahlane and Sapa

Fiery senior African National Congress leader Peter Mokaba, who held controversial views on Aids, died at his home in Johannesburg on Sunday.

ANC officials were not prepared to go on record on Sunday night and party spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama was not available for comment.

"We want to express shock at the death of a young leader and we would like to express our condolences to the family," said Pan Africanist Congress leader Stanley Mogoba.

"We believe he still had much to offer the country. I believe it is a loss to the country as well as to the Northern Province."

South African Communist Party spokesperson Mazibuko Jara also expressed shock.

"We share our grief and pain with the family, the ANC and his friends," he said.

"We will release a full statement after we have received a report from the ANC."

Mokaba was recently asked to desist from making public statements about Aids, as were scientists serving on President Thabo Mbeki's Aids advisory panel who held dissident views.

Mokaba, an MP, denied that he was a dissident.

He fell ill in 1999 and was given long leave from parliament. He fiercely rejected rumours at the time that he had Aids. When he attended the ANC national general council meeting in June 2000, he had noticeably lost weight.

Turning his attention to the Aids debate, he made numerous statements emphasising that the virus had not been isolated and that antiretroviral drugs were toxic. He claimed the Americans and the French were fighting for markets to which they could sell antiretrovirals because they had struck an agreement in the 1980s that, if the virus was discovered by scientists, they would share the benefits of sales of drugs.

He said in a recent interview that Aids drugs had no benefits beyond profits for firms.

"I have fought apartheid and we won," he said. "We will fight this battle (against pharmaceutical companies), too. We can't allow ourselves to be turned into guinea pigs for these companies to play with our lives."

Mokaba hit out at Malegapuru Makgoba, head of the Medical Research Council, because he maintained that HIV caused Aids. Mokaba described him as a "low-grade politician" who was being used by anti-government forces.

Despite his controversial views about the disease, Mokaba believed that the government was on the right course with its response to the pandemic.

Mokaba had his strongest political support in Northern Province, the region in which he was born.

In March 1987, he founded the South African Youth Congress, Sayco, and was elected president at its launch. After the unbanning of the ANC, Sayco dissolved and the ANC Youth League was established. Mokaba served as ANC Youth League president from December 1991 to January 1994.

Mokaba will always be associated with controversy - and the phrase "Kill the boer, kill the farmer", which he coined when he was the youth league's president. He used the phrase when he addressed a commemorative rally for slain SACP leader Chris Hani at Khayelitsha near Cape Town on April 17 1993.

At the time of his death, he was an ANC MP, a member of the ANC national executive committee and the chief electioneering strategist of the ruling party.

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