AIDS is killing so many politicians in southern Africa that their deaths are threatening the ability of governments and local authorities to function properly, a Cape Town researcher warns. South Africa alone is losing 28,000 young voters a month to AIDS.
A full 2.6-million registered South African voters aged 30 to 49 years have already died since 1999. And it's due to AIDS, says Kondwani Chirambo, lead author of a new study on deaths among local city councillors in South Africa. The vast majority of South Africa's wall-to-wall municipalities are run by councillors from the ruling African National Congress party.
That's the party of Nelson Mandela - and of former president Thabo Mbeki - the latter leader who denied that AIDS was caused by the HIV-virus. Instead, Mbeki claimed, AIDS was 'caused by poverty, and malnutrition caused by poverty.'
His health minister, Mrs Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, seen here on this video explaining what she and her president believed were the causes of AIDS, became infamous worldwide for her concocting an 'AIDS-cure' of beetroot, garlic and African potatoes, which was widely distributed in South African public health facilities during the Mbeki-rule to people dying of AIDS-related diseases.
Security forces, prisons:
The problem also emerges in the South African security forces, where the large number of young, infected soldiers and police officers are posing a growing security threat due to the physical side-effects of the deadly syndrome, according to a warning issued late last year by one of the country's top psychiatrists. see A secret report about the massive AIDS-death toll in the South African Prison system also was highlighted in another, seperate report last month. In the secret prison study, it was found that both the guards and the inmates were dying of AIDS in nearly equal numbers. seeRuling African National Congress councillors dying of AIDS
This study thus also indicates that the local-level leadership of the ruling party of South Africa -- the African National Congress - now are dying by the tens of thousands each month of AIDS. see
The AIDS-epidemic is of course not limited only to the ANC-membership - other political party members are also suffering in a similar way.
However because the ANC is the ruling party which holds the most parliamentary and local-authority seats, the effect of the AIDS-epidemic could have a devastating impact on this political party 's ability to provide municipal services countrywide - with their members and town councillors dying so fast and often also being too ill too work while they are still officially employed.
Chirambo, the lead author of this new study on deaths among local city councillors in South Africa, told Agence France Press news agency that he had studied six other southern African countries where unnatural numbers of deaths of lawmakers could also be attributed to AIDS.
The study said there was a general fear among the 112 ward councillors interviewed by researchers that disclosure of HIV status could ruin political careers.
"On the one hand, councillors express a fear of rejection by the electorate, who may deem them unfit for office if they are known to be HIV-positive.
"On the other, they see a danger of political opposition presenting them as incapable of ruling. The emerging data creates the impression that HIV/Aids denialism permeates politics."
The study said 233 local councillors in the 22 to 49 year age group died in office between February 2001 and December 2007, and it could be assumed that 70% of those, or 161 individuals, died of Aids.
The deaths were equivalent to two-thirds of the strength of the National Assembly.
Losing this number of people at leadership level was "not a phenomenon to be ignored".
The fact that most of the deaths occurred among councillors younger than 51, should raise the alarm over institutional memory and effective local governance.
"How can we possibly expect to build capacity in politics if the people who should lead will die before the age of 50?" the study asked.
"If you look at the statistics, MPs have been dying young and dying in large numbers. These trends are similar to the trend seen in the general population," said Chirambo, of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa.
Life expectancy in South Africa down to 51
Life expectancy in South Africa has been dramatically reduced by the epidemic: from 64 years during the apartheid years which ended in 1994, to 51 years in 2008 -- and only as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
The 2004 South African Department of Health report "The Democraphic Impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National and Provincial Indicators" concluded for instance that 70 percent of all deaths in that year in the age group 15 – 49 years were due to AIDS and often also of co-infection with Extremely-drug-resistant Tuberculosis.
Municipalities can't function properly
Municipalities depend on appropriate knowledge and skills in order to deliver quality service to local communities. The study warns that loss of skills as a result of AIDS, job migration to other sectors of the economy and increasing demands for service delivery may all ‘conspire to undermine service delivery’.
“Apart from local government losing skills to other sectors it is also suffering a depletion caused by an unexplained illnesses which could largely be associated with HIV and AIDS. And that might introduce institutional weakness because most of these are the most trained and most experienced councillors”, says Chirambo.
Death of young voters
And, Chirambo says, they have determined that South Africa is losing 28,000 registered voters a month -- this alone should be a concern to those charged with providing municipal services to residents.
It's a death-blow to the future of South Africa’s young democracy. see2.6-million young voters died in 2001-2006
“Pressure on cemetery space grows. Pressure on clinical services also grow as younger people are showing up ill. Between 2001 and 2006 we noted that there were 2,6 million voters who had died, and the majority of them were between the ages of 30 and 49 years. And that has to be quite worrying”.
Over the last eight years, almost half of the 589 municipal by-elections in South Africa between February 2001 and December 2007 were caused by death of councillors at a young age. see
Chirambo said this "does not bode well" for South Africa, where the poor government services are a major public complaint. Countrywide protest actions are held regularly to demand better 'service delivery' in municipalities. At least 226 municipalities were in fact functioning so poorly that local ratepayers created Trust Funds in which they deposited their taxes, so that they could start running their own municipal services.
Councillors are not the poorest people in the world...
Yet in the whole of southern Africa, the study found only one elected official who had openly disclosed her HIV status, and Chirambo attributes the failure of all these officials to seek help to a fear of stigma.
"It is not a very healthy profile. Councillors are not the poorest people in the world," he said.
"It is clear a great deal of them feel to disclose your status is a form of political suicide."
South Africa undoubtedly has the world's highest new AIDS infection statistics. Depending on the source, these statistics range from 5.4 million people infected (SA Government); to 6.1-million (by the international medical agency MSF). At least 18% of the AIDS-victims in South Africa are working-age people, still active in the work-force.
In Senegal, with a national AIDS prevalence of only one percent, there were only three vacancies in parliament caused by deaths of politicians. He did not say why the recorded AIDS-prevalence in Senegal was so low.
However in Zambia, which recorded the first AIDS-death in 1995, AIDS is cited as the most common cause of deaths which are leading to parliamentary vacancies. see