30 SEPTEMBER 2000, Page 32


Fact-free fantasy

From Dr Essop Pahad, MP, Minister in the Presidency, South African Government Sir: `R.W. Johnson reports from South Africa' trumpets the cover of The Spectator (26 August), promoting his article 'The new apartheid'. With such billing, one might expect a few facts in it, not merely innuen- do and unsubstantiated opinion, particular- ly when Johnson purports to write on behalf of a foundation he heads which enjoys the respected patronage of Helen Suzman. Is the liberal dame happy about this?

Johnson describes opposition leader Tony Leon as 'having always opposed apartheid'. In fact, Leon's party has just comfortably merged with P.W. Botha's old crowd. As Britain was choosing Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s, Leon's party was still grappling with accepting the principle of one person, one vote, preferring — as apartheid entered its fourth decade — the comforting fraud of a 'qualified franchise': votes only for hand-picked blacks. In the 1970s, Leon 'opposed' apartheid by joining P.W. Botha's brutal military and working in its propaganda arm.

Johnson says Mbeki has 'adopted the view that HIV does not cause Aids'. I challenge him to produce a single occasion on which President Mbeki 'adopted' this view. The President has correctly emphasised that poverty worsens the toll that Aids takes on the bodies of the afflicted, and can con- tribute dangerously to immune deficiency. He has pleaded for holistic approaches, true; but even Johnson must know that he has, at the same time, emphasised that the govern- ment's whole programme against Aids is based on the thesis that HIV causes it.

Apart from fact-free anecdotes, John- son's article reads like a 'Freud's Corner' column — arm's-length psychoanalysis of a President whom he has never so much as met: e.g. Mbeki 'may be suffering the ner- vous breakdown that some suspect'. And try this one for size: 'Crudely put, many now believe that Mbeki is no longer playing with a full pack — that he's off his rocker.' Never in the history of The Spectator, even during its flabby and self-satisfied Eighties — before the Tory electoral drought brought out some editorial grit — has a democratically elected head of a friendly state (who is chair of the Commonwealth) been subject to such treatment. R.W. John- son reserves allegations of insanity for the leader of Africa's most secure democracy.

Johnson calls the party of Mandela and Mbeki 'racist' and the old apartheid party 'lib- eral'. Words lose meaning. The mind demon- strably unhinged is R.W. Johnson's. No won- der he is little published in South Africa.

Essop Pahad

Pretoria, South Africa