Tom Happold, The Guardian (London), Jan. 6
Nelson Mandela today revealed that his eldest son, Makgatho, has died of Aids. Mr Mandela’s announcement challenged the widespread prejudice against sufferers of the disease in South Africa, which has undermined efforts to tackle the pandemic.
Makgatho, a 54-year-old attorney, died earlier today in Johannesburg’s Linksfield Park Clinic, to which he was admitted last month. His wife, Zondi, died from pneumonia two years ago. He is survived by three sons.
The former South African president Mr Mandela today told a hastily-arranged news conference: “Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it, because the only way of making it appear to be a normal illness just like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died of HIV.”
His comments contrast starkly with those of his successor, Thabo Mbeki, who has denied knowing anyone who has died of the disease and has questioned the link between HIV and Aids.
Mr Mbeki recently accused white Aids campaigners of racism, claiming that they regarded black people as “rampant sexual beasts, unable to control our urges, unable to keep our legs crossed, unable to keep it in our pants”.
He was responding to parliamentary questions about his silence on the pandemic, which has infected 5.6 million South Africans — more people than in any other country.
Mr Mbeki’s government recently began a national treatment programme for HIV/Aids, but the initiative is already struggling to meet its target of treating 53,000 people by March.
While not criticising Mr Mbeki publicly, and fending off questions about the president today, Mr Mandela has been increasingly prominent in the campaign against HIV/Aids, and recently hosted a concert to raise money for his HIV/Aids awareness foundation.
Makgatho was one of four children — two daughters and two sons — from Mr Mandela’s first marriage to Evelyn Mase, who died in May at the age of 82. A daughter died in 1948 before she was a year old, and another son was killed in a car crash in 1969 while Mr Mandela was in prison.