South African Politics Draws Scrutiny South African President Thabo Mbeki is still answering questions about last week's firing of deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. John Allen, managing editor of the web site All Africa, discusses what the firing says about South African politics, and what it could mean for that nation's AIDS policy.
NPR logo

South African Politics Draws Scrutiny

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12835145/12835148" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
South African Politics Draws Scrutiny

South African Politics Draws Scrutiny

South African Politics Draws Scrutiny

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12835145/12835148" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

South African President Thabo Mbeki is still answering questions about last week's firing of deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. John Allen, managing editor of the web site All Africa, discusses what the firing says about South African politics, and what it could mean for that nation's AIDS policy.

CALLIE CROSSLEY, host:

And now, an update from South Africa.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is taking serious criticism for firing deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge about a week ago. He says she disobeyed orders and didn't work well with her team at the ministry. But South African advocates for stronger HIV AIDS policies say she was an important voice and will be sorely missed.

Joining us to discuss it is Jonathan Allen. He is the managing editor of AllAfrica.com, and he's on the line with us from his office in Cape Town, South Africa. Hello, Jonathan.

Mr. JONATHAN ALLEN (Managing Editor, AllAfrica.com): Hello there.

CROSSLEY: What specific reasons did President Mbeki give for firing Madlala-Routledge?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, the first one was that he said in his letter to her of dismissal - which he released a few days after, in the face of the criticism -was that she was incapable of working in a team, and she showed that not only in her current portfolio but also in a previous portfolio as the deputy defense minister.

And then he sighted in passing an unauthorized trip that she took to an AIDS conference in Spain, which she arrived in Spain and found, in fact, that he, the president, haven't authorized the trip. She came home, and he cited that in his letter of dismissal as well.

CROSSLEY: As I understand it, though, she herself said, you know, I came back after I realized my trip was not approved. So was there a history of friction between the two of them?

Mr. ALLEN: We don't know about a history of friction between the two of them. But there appears to be - have been some controversy within the government about her style. She is an activist as deputy defense minister. The people were remarking on the fact that she was a Quaker, it was somewhat unusual in the world to have a Quaker. And so perhaps, there have been some suggestions that an activist doesn't fit well in a bureaucracy, especially one such as ours, with a lot of people in it to operate it in exile where, of necessity, secrecy is imposed upon them. Our government's not always as committed to open government as we, strictly as journalists, might like to see.

CROSSLEY: Now reports indicate that Madlala-Routledge clashed frequently with the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. But it seems from the outside to be a little issue or maybe political jealousy. Was there an issue between them?

Mr. ALLEN: Strictly from the reports that have been appearing, there appears to have been problems between them, particularly Ms. Madlala-Routledge said in her - at a press conference after her firing that the health minister, Ms. Tshabalala-Msimang, excluded her from briefings, or strictly controlled the kind of documents that she could see.

And certainly, the way that the health minister has run her portfolio, one can easily imagine that they had to conflict with the style of a person who was kind of a grassroots committee activist in the country on that basis.

CROSSLEY: She was the deputy health minister, not the actual health minister. Why was this post so important?

Mr. ALLEN: Well, the reason that the story has gained such currency and such a controversy has been developed around that is because of the perceptions that the health minister is effectively an AIDS denialist. Now, the government, Mr. Mbeki and the health minister would reject some of the charges made against them.

But generally, the public perception is that they're not exercising the kind of public condition that they should on AIDS, which is a huge, huge crisis, whereas Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge had an image completely different from that. She worked easily and she interacted easily with AIDS activists, and they were considerably reassured by her presence as the deputy health minister in the government and worked successfully with her.

CROSSLEY: Why are Madlala-Routledge's supporters so adamant that she stay on? What kind of work does she do in the fight against HIV/AIDS that made her so important to them?

Mr. ALLEN: There's a new national AIDS plan which has been adopted in the country in recent years. It's been adopted as a result of pressure within the ruling ANC and also pressure from community, the activists and AIDS activists outside. And her supporters fear that without her there, that plan's going to get bogged down the market if implemented properly.

CROSSLEY: Jonathan Allen is the managing editor for AllAfrica.com. He joined us from his office in Cape Town, South Africa. Jonathan, thank you.

Mr. ALLEN: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.