Bhengu funeral turns into Aids slanging match

By Mfundo Mcetywa

Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Ntombazane Botha was whisked away from the funeral of Nozipho Bhengu on Saturday after she offended mourners when she criticised Jacob Zuma's controversial shower statement.

And health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni used the funeral of Nozipho, daughter of Ugu deputy mayor and former MP Ruth Bhengu, to lash out at the Treatment Action Campaign.

The family had requested that they be allowed to mourn, but instead the funeral became a vicious debating ground on the use of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's much supported lemon and garlic diet instead of anti-retrovirals.

Nozipho was diagnosed with HIV and Aids in 1998 and passed away last Friday. She had chosen to follow the controversial "Aids diet" created by Dutch born Tina van der Maas. The Treatment Action Campaign blamed Msimang and Van der Maas for Nozipho's death and described both as Aids denialists.

Botha, speaking at the funeral on behalf of the ANC, was booed off stage and was rushed off by her bodyguards after she praised Mbeki and criticised the ANC deputy president, Jacob Zuma.

"We are aware of the political agenda by the TAC and other opportunistic politicians. People don't want to listen because they have their own agenda although the health minister has said a lot about nutrition."

"Some of our own comrades are misleading people by standing on platforms and telling Msimang to stop telling people to use Ubejane. Some comrades even tell us to have a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive person," said Botha immediately earning the wrath of the crowd.

Emotional mourners clapped their hands, booed and shouted insulting slogans. Some left in a huff.

"Uyabheda (you are out of line). This is KZN. Get out," shouted some.

Even after the programme director Themba Ndlovu intervened, the mourners persisted in singing Zuma's slogan song "Mshini wami" to get Botha off stage.

Tshabalala-Msimang, who was due to attend the funeral, did not turn up. Deputy speaker of parliament, Gwen Mhlangu, spoke on her behalf saying the minister was "extremely ill".

KZN MEC for health Peggy Nkonyeni, however, said she was "well and in Geneva for a conference".

Nkonyeni lashed out at the TAC whom she accused of "acting as God". She said she was amazed the TAC did not support the government's HIV and Aids nutritional programme.

"It is high time that we ensure that traditional medicine is complemented by Western medicine. Why must we depend on Western medicine and look down on our own. There is no cure for Aids. ARVs don't cure Aids - they just prolong your life. It does not mean that you will be cured if you take them.

The TAC must not make themselves God by saying that Nozipho would not have died had she taken ARVs. Congratulations to them if it means that they won't die," said Nkoyeni.

She said people needed to be aware of unscrupulous individuals who manufactured certain viruses to infect communities so that pharmaceutical companies could benefit.

She said this in reference to advise that countries should stockpile vaccines for viruses that have not yet even seen a victim or reached the country.

Nozipho's mother, Ruth Bhengu, was one of the first prominent politicians to declare her daughter's HIV positive status.

Aged 31, Nozpiho was described at her funeral as a courageous, young lady who never allowed her HIV status to prevent her from living her life.

Nozipho died having written a book entitled From Victim to Victor, which is still to be published.

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