Ignorance is bliss : the political use of denialism in Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS response

Schmidt, Adriana (2020-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study analyses Thabo Mbeki’s use of denialism in his approach to HIV and AIDS in South Africa, between 1994 and 2008. While in office, Mbeki subscribed to, and promoted, various radical policies regarding the disease. He was severely criticized for the way he dealt with the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa. He employed various denial tactics in order to discredit Western medicine, as well as scientific proof of its effectiveness. He held on to the use of traditional medicine, while promoting toxic “alternative” medicine developed in South Africa. Denialism has been well-documented by Stanley Cohen, a former professor in psychology at the London School of Economics (LSE). In his book, States of Denial (2001), Cohen describes the various types of denial that can be used in either the public sector or in an individual person’s private capacity. By looking at the AIDS-related events that occurred between 1994 and 2008, and analyzing those through the lens of Cohen’s theory of denialism, it becomes clear which tactics Mbeki employed in order to promote his own agenda and opinions. The study will, throughout, describe theoretical aspects of denialism, by studying the work of theoretical experts. The reason for this is that, in order to explain the reaction to a problem, the problem must first be properly defined. Following this, Mbeki’s years in office are divided into his term as Deputy President, and his two presidential terms. For each of those terms, the study will focus on the most important and memorable events and Mbeki’s statements, followed by an analysis based on Cohen’s theory in order to answer the research questions. The aim of the study is to problematise how Thabo Mbeki did not act from a place of ignorance or a lack of knowledge, but how he acted in a detrimental manner in order to retain his position as a “leading figure” in Africa. He was eager to promote Africa as a thriving continent, and he was adamant that the problem of HIV and AIDS could be solved without help from Western scientists.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis ontleed hoe Thabo Mbeki gedurende 1994 en 2008, in sy benadering tot MIV en VIGS in Suid Afrika, `n beleid van ontkenning toegepas het. Tydens sy ampstydperk het Mbeki verskeie radikale benaderings teenoor die siekte onderskryf en bevorder. Hy is skerp gekritiseer oor die manier waarop hy die MIV/VIGS-krisis in Suid-Afrika hanteer het. Hy het op verskeie, berekende wyses ontkenning as `n beleid toegepas, met die oog daarop om die Westerse medisyne, sowel as wetenskaplike bewyse van die doeltreffendheid daarvan, te diskrediteer. Hy het aan die gebruik van tradisionele medisyne vasgehou, terwyl hy ook gehelp het om toksiese “alternatiewe” middels wat in Suid-Afrika ontwikkel is, te bevorder. Stanley Cohen, `n voormalige professor in sielkunde aan LSE, het ontkenning as beleidsrigting deeglik gedokumenteer. In sy boek, States of Denial (2001), beskryf Cohen die verskillende soorte ontkenning wat in óf die openbare sektor, óf in individue se privaathoedanigheid gebruik kan word. Wanneer die VIGS-verwante gebeure van tussen 1994 en 2008 bestudeer word, en dié gebeure onder die mikroskoop van Cohen se teorie van ontkenning ontleed word, raak dit duidelik watter benaderings Mbeki toegepas het om sy eie agenda en opinies te bevorder. Die tesis sal eerstens die teoretiese aspekte van ontkenning ondersoek, deur die werk van teoretiese kenners te bestudeer. Die rede hiervoor is dat, ten einde die reaksie op `n probleem te kan verduidelik, moet die probleem eers behoorlik omskryf word. Daarna word Mbeki se ampsjare tussen sy termyn as Adjunk-president, en sy twee termyne as President, verdeel. Vir elkeen van daardie termyne, sal die tesis fokus op die belangrikste en mees merkwaardige gebeure, asook op Mbeki se verklarings, gevolg deur `n ontleding gegrond op Cohen se teorie, met die doel om die vrae wat in die navorsing ontstaan het, te kan beantwoord. Die doel van die tesis is om te ondersoek hoe Thabo Mbeki nie uit onkunde of as gevolg van `n gebrek aan kennis opgetree het nie, maar wel hoe hy sy skadelike optrede gevolg het om sy posisie as `n “leierfiguur” in Afrika te behou. Hy was daarop ingestel om Afrika as `n vooruitstrewende vasteland voor te hou, en hy was vasbeslote dat die probleem van MIV en VIGS sonder die hulp van Westerse wetenskaplikes opgelos kon word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107928
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