By Chiara Carter and Lennox Diver
Alternative medication produced by a company whose directors include Christine Qunta, the lawyer tipped to become the next SABC board chairperson, is being sold to the public as a cure for HIV and Aids - despite the product still undergoing scientific tests.
Qunta, who is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of the company, on Friday said such claims were not company policy, and until the tests were completed, the product should be described as a nutritional supplement.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) meanwhile warned it had not tested the plant product in respect of its appropriateness for human use or potential toxicity.
But Qunta's co-director, Uitenhage healer Freddie Isaacs, on Thursday claimed his product could work miracles - including curing HIV and Aids.
"It does cure Aids," Isaacs said.
This was after he sold 112 green pills packaged in Comforter's Healing Gift (Pty) Ltd plastic containers to an undercover journalism student, Nompumezo Makinana, who was accompanied by a Kwanobuhle Treatment Action Campaign branch organiser Emma Baleka, who posed as her mother.
Makinana said Isaacs placed his hand on her forehead and told her that she was in the dangerous "third stage" of the virus, but that eight of his tablets (four in the morning, four at night) would cure her.
She is, in fact, HIV-negative.
He also gave her a swig from a bottle of black liquid with no label.
They paid R210 for the two containers and the liquid and, according to the invoice, a further R200 was owed.
Isaacs claimed his capsules had been tested on animals and by the "MRC Council" (Medical Research Council) - a claim subsequently confirmed by Qunta.
Qunta told Independent Newspapers that the company was dormant. The product had been patented and was still being tested by the MRC with a view to commercialising it. It was meanwhile being produced under quality conditions in Durban. In its packaging it did not claim to be a cure for anything.
She said they had instructed Isaacs and his colleagues not to make claims for the product until scientific tests were completed.
Qunta's involvement in CHG was raised at a meeting of the portfolio committee on communications by Democratic Alliance MP Dene Smuts earlier this week.
Qunta said it seemed this was part of her being targeted by opposition party MPs who didn't want her on the SABC board and so were seeking to smear her as an Aids denialist - something she was not.
Dr Vinesh Maharaj, who leads the bioprospecting research group at the CSIR, confirmed that the CHG product had previously been brought to the CSIR for "preliminary tests".
He said the product was based on a plant that had been researched independently by other scientists for anti-HIV properties and that it was one of several plant-based HIV remedies that were brought to the CSIR by healers for testing.
According, to Maharaj, early laboratory tests conducted by the CSIR "showed activity against a laboratory-adapted strain of HIV III B" and the plant might well be a "worthwhile candidate for further research". He cautioned that the CSIR did not test this plant in respect of its appropriateness for human use and that it had not been tested in terms of potential toxicity.
"Accordingly it is inappropriate, and in fact premature, to state that the product has been tested by the CSIR," Maharaj cautioned.
Qunta is widely tipped to become the next chair of the SABC board, where she is currently the deputy chairperson. The chairperson is chosen by the president, while the board is selected by MPs. The new board takes office in the new year.