South African constitution is a chapter on the importance of an inviolable canon taken from a A Family Affair, by Bernard Preston.
Santie Veenstra, now professor of law at Gauteng University, speaks out the value of a constitution enshrined and beyond the outrages of politicians.
The ruling power in South Africa, the African National Congress has stated that it will change the constitution of South Africa if they achieve a two-thirds majority. Many fear this the first step towards another dictatorial government as seen under the Apartheid regime.
Update: The South African public voted to prevent a change in the constitution, but a new threat lurks; land expropriation of all farmers without compensation; whites are targeted by some black farmers are feeling threatened too.
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 5 January, 2019.
"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
- Rev Reinhold Niebuhr
Book 10 is an excerpt from A Family Affair by Bernard Preston; a little tidbit to whet your appetite.
"Public opinion rarely considers the needs of the next generation or the history of the last. It is frequently hampered by myths and misinformation, by stereotypes and shibboleths, and by an innate resistance to innovation."
-Theodore C. Sorensen
It was not often that Santie Veenstra woke up in a sweat. She knew that today she, newly promoted Professor Veenstra, would make few friends, and most likely many enemies. Having her son home, asking questions about his father only complicated matters, and she found it difficult to concentrate as she put the finishing touches to her lecture. She was hoping to have it done before Carlo woke. Carlo, however, like his mother, was an early riser. Santie heard a toilet flush, and then noises from the kitchen; the sounds of tea being poured. ‘Morning, Mom. You’re up early.’
‘I’ve been preparing this lecture for a month, Carlo, but now that the moment has arrived, I’m really quite anxious. It’s very controversial.’
‘Nothing new, Mom. Controversy always seems to be following you! Or do you follow it?’ said Carlo with a laugh. ‘Did you get through to my father?’
Santie swivelled in her chair, facing her son. ‘Yes, I did. Unfortunately he is going to be away on business for a week. You’ve waited eighteen years, Carlo. Do you think you could wait until next weekend?’
Carlo looked doubtful. He had waited, weighing things since Trek’s visit, but now that his curiosity was awakened, he didn’t want to wait any longer.
‘Can’t you just tell me?’
Santie finished the dregs of her tea, and went through to the kitchen for another. It gave her moment to think. On her return she said: ‘No, I can’t Carlo, because he never found out that I was carrying his child. I never told him that I was pregnant with you. He doesn’t know you exist and I owe to him to tell him myself. Then he can be very proud of himself, because he is the father of a very fine young man, but it will come as a shock, I promise you!’ ‘I wouldn’t tell anybody. I promise.’ ‘I know you wouldn’t, Carlo, but I’m afraid it might leak out. He must hear it from me.’ ‘He does know about Trek, doesn’t he?’ ‘I believe so, but that makes no difference. Can I make a promise, Carlo?’
Santie’s son nodded, obviously out of sorts. ‘You will know within a few short weeks. Will you be patient for your mother? What we have here is a Pandora’s Box and I owe it to both you and to your father to do this in the right way.’ Carlo nodded glumly. He turned away to the couch, flicking on the TV.
Santie stood up, recognising the stress and tension in her son, and sat next to Carlo on the couch, putting her arm around him. ‘You are a very special young man, Carlo. And you have a very special father. You will be very proud of him, and he will be very proud of you. You don’t need to be anxious; but I must break the news to him gently.’
Santie had struggled for many weeks during the preparation of her inaugural lecture as Dean of the Law faculty at the University of Gauteng, knowing that it would sharply divide opinion. It was foolish, almost unprecedented, for a newly appointed Dean to begin their reign on such a controversial note as she had in mind. Latterly, it certainly had become easier for white women in the new South Africa to gain promotion, and she knew that several colleagues were of the opinion that she had leap-frogged over more senior men, simply because she was a woman. That in itself meant that there were a number of men waiting in the wings with knives drawn. Was she being a fool? To be so controversial in her acceptance speech, in the face of world opinion, could be construed at the very least as madness and at worst political suicide. But she gauged that the equation in South Africa was different, and the pendulum had just started its swing back towards sanity. People were literally dying in their hundreds of thousands, with over a thousand new HIV infections every day, and everyone knew it. The mood was shifting away from the denialists, and those who wanted to be secretive about AIDS. It was her detractors, so at odds with the circumstances, not she, who were truly mad, she kept telling herself.
In the end it was Agnes’s death that swung it. Santie reasoned that her lecture was not conceived out of a desire to be controversial but, for her to speak on any other subject, would not only be dishonouring to the memory of Agnes but also personally and professionally dishonest. It was time to join the ranks of those courageous men and women who were taking a stand, in the face of enormous pressure from the bigotry of government. Any other topic would be quite immoral. More important, there were the uninfected millions of South Africans, men and women, and children who were going to die, quite needlessly, in the future. Dare she stand up and be counted? It was plain that her position would be compromised from the very start, but the imperative to speak out led her boldly forwards. Some said afterwards like a lamb to the slaughter but her integrity and the grotesque cruelty of HIV/AIDS demanded fresh thought on the legal issues concerning individual human rights. Oddly, in moments like this, when she needed reassurance, it was always to Janet that she turned.
‘Hello Jan, got a mo? It’s Sant.’ ‘Yes, of course, Santie. I hear down the grapevine that it’s your big day. What topic are you going to speak on?’ ‘Agnes’s death has been weighing heavily on me, Jan. She’s speaking to me from the grave. I dream of her often at night and during the day she’s been haunting me, but I know the world won’t want to hear what Agnes is demanding.’ ‘What is it she wants, Sant?’ ‘Protection for women still uninfected by HIV.’ ‘Mm. Only women?’ ‘No, I guess not, thanks for the reminder, I must include that, but it’s predominantly young women and children who are being infected by older men.’ ‘True, but what are you suggesting?’ ‘Read about it tomorrow in the press,’ replied Santie with a laugh. ‘In a nut-shell, that HIV/AIDS should become a notifiable disease.’ ‘Whew, good luck, Santie. You are quite right of course, but you are a decade ahead of your time. More people have to die first. Lots more. Tomorrow’s press may be your Golgotha, I’m afraid.’ ‘Thanks Jan, I know it, but I just wanted to hear your voice. I knew you wouldn’t have any kind words for me. How are you anyway?’ ‘I’m okay, Santie, but I’m tiring of prosecuting rapists. I’m running out of energy. I think it’s time for a change.’ ‘What are you thinking of?’ ‘Nothing. Just quitting. I could afford to take six months off. Storm has got a very nice bursary from Arts and Culture to study further and, without the burden of her education, I am thinking of taking six months out of harness, and hiring a cottage in Aston.’ ‘In Aston! So the deception lives on,’ Santie finished, not a little bitterly. ‘Now with a little delusion tacked on, to add insult to injury.’ ‘It was you who left, not me, Santie. I met Peter again when I took Storm down for a visit, and I thought that, yes, perhaps we could make a go of it. He hasn’t even hinted at anything positive, of course, so you’re right, it’s probably just an idle pipe-dream.’ ‘Well, dream on Jan. I must go and put the finishing touches to my speech. Bye for now. Read all about it, tomorrow. Oh, and let me know what you decide about taking some time out.’ ‘I’ll read the Times tomorrow, for sure. I wouldn’t miss it for anything! You are a great performer, Santie, and I have no doubt you will grab their attention and hold them in a thrall. Then they’ll crucify you! Good luck,’ Janet ended with a laugh. ‘At least Carlo has come up to witness my crucifixion. He can hold my hand if I survive the ordeal.’ ‘Love to Carlo, Santie. At least we managed to bring up four fine children. Nobody can hold that against us.’
Vice Chancellor of the University of Gauteng, the Honourable President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, distinguished colleagues and esteemed guests and friends. It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address you for the first time as the newly appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law. I must say that my appointment came as a great surprise, there being in my view many colleagues more worthy, but we women, so long prejudiced against, have learned to take our chances when Lady Luck comes our way. Santie looked up from her notes, smiled, and nodded in the general direction of her colleagues who were seated in the third row.
You will this evening, be anticipating a learned, and probably mundane address on the merits of the Rule of Law or the value of an independent judiciary; perhaps even a reflection on our Constitution, or the civil and political rights of every citizen. While I shall briefly cover all of the above, I intend rather to tell you the story of a friend and, by extrapolating from her circumstances, make certain recommendations concerning human rights that will offend some of you, perhaps even many of you. For you see, in my opinion, human rights in South Africa have once again been seriously compromised, and citizens’ lives irreversibly impaired. Perhaps, if we do not take immediate action, even more seriously than by Apartheid itself. I don’t believe it’s being overly dramatic to say that our very civilisation itself is dangerously imperilled. Then we shall conduct a little social experiment that should prove interesting. This evening will not be dull I promise you, and not one of you will be nodding off! For effect, Santie stopped, looking out over her audience, glad that she held their whole attention. This week in South Africa we will observe World Aids Day, so it is not inappropriate that we should talk about HIV/AIDS and that always arouses the emotions. In particular, I am going to draw your attention to the one thousand new infections that are occurring each and every day in South Africa; in my opinion, most of them are hapless victims and not, as many say, merely victims of their own stupidity. The time has come, in the words of our own Justice Edwin Cameron to stop stigmatising this disease: blaming, moralising and condemning those infected with HIV/AIDS.
I hope what you experience tonight will be the first searing of a Bunsen burner applied to the crucible of a national debate, as I propose a vigorous position statement. You will not, of course, have the opportunity to reply this evening, but instead I dearly hope that my exposition will cause us all to stop and reconsider, and to re-open this debate with vigorous intellectual combat, and not retreat to the comfortable position that the matter is already “neatly settled” in the minds of the majority. According to UNAids, South Africa is the country with the largest number of HIV infections in the whole world. Rather, it is absolutely essential that we revisit the catastrophic errors of judgement that South Africans at every level have made, and continue to make. Half of this speech belongs to me, but for this evening to have any value at all, it is you my listening audience, who must put on the other half, that which belongs to you.
It would however not be inopportune to start with our Constitution. It has been likened to an ox-wagon, a slow and ponderous vehicle that needs to be robust enough to repulse repeated attacks on it by various citizen groups and even the Legislative. The disselboom that draws our wagon represents the inherent dignity of every member of the nation. Every person, the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick, the strong and the weak, each have the right to a safe and secure life, to liberty and to equal treatment before the law. Tonight I am exercising my right under that Constitution to the freedom of opinion and expression, and I vigorously encourage each of you to make full use of your freedom to think. Without such freedoms no civilization can or will sustain itself, hence the great many books that begin with the title: The rise and fall of … We shall not allow that to be the title of the next book written about South Africa!
The first wheel that supports our wagon, and provides for a rich and robust civilization, is that of our Civil and Political rights. Much has been said and I would like to highlight only one feature: those rights shall include the protection of citizens against the ravages of preventable diseases which are often, but not necessarily, linked to malnutrition and poverty. Any shorter history of Europe will testify how Consumption, the great White Plague and its nemesis, Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, can plunder and decimate a civilization, killing the noblest and best, should progressive governments not keep disease sharply within in their circle of concern. From King Tut, to Frederic Chopin and Edgar Alan Poe tuberculosis killed the rich and famous, and the poor, alike. It even killed great and famous doctors like Anton Chekhov. The Black Death epidemic on the other hand started in China in the fourteenth century, spreading rapidly along trade routes to the Black Sea, from where Italian sailors brought it first to Sicily. The wise Sicilians when they realized what was happening, drove the Italians out, attempting to isolate the disease, but alas it was too late. Within a mere five years Bubonic plague slaughtered twenty-five million people, a third of Europe. We shall in due course return to our first wheel.
Our lumbering ox-wagon needs to provide more than dignity and Civil and Political rights, however. The second sustaining wheel is law enforcement, without which no society can protect fundamental human rights. Human beings unfortunately seem to have an undeniable bias towards evil. Without an effective system of policing, relentless application of the Law and effective but humane incarceration, any progressive society will soon sink into anarchy. It is prudent to reflect that it is not only the poor who end up in our prisons. Judges and politicians from the highest echelons turn out to be criminals, and top businessmen all too regularly have been found guilty of serious economic crimes that, undetected and not countered, would topple our wagon. As we all know, even the best law in the land, unenforced, is a bad law. It is veritably a vital wheel of our wagon, enabling society to curb the rampant greed exhibited by the rich and powerful, and those violent persons who contemplate only brutal means of fulfilling their desires and solving their difficulties. Without effective law enforcement, our civilization will never have the assets and peace to pursue, for example, research to find a cure for otherwise preventable diseases. Nor will it have the scientists to conduct that research; they will have moved on to friendlier, more ordered countries.
The twentieth century has seen any number of examples of lofty civilizations that have been brought to their knees by Kaisers, Kings, and Presidents, and even Parliaments which, overwhelmed with visions of their own wisdom, popularity and power, have amended and thwarted their own Constitutions. The third wheel of our proverbial ox-wagon, by protecting the Constitution from legislative review and amendment, also undergirds civilization by thwarting the excessive and undue imaginations of legislators and Monarchs. Such would often invest vast sums on military arsenals rather than concern themselves with the health and happiness of their citizens. Parliaments, Kings and Presidents should never be allowed to think they are sovereign. Only the Constitution of the land has that right and duty, rumbling on wheels girded with bands of steel.
The fourth and last wheel of our noble ox-wagon is one to which I, and many learned colleagues present, have devoted ourselves. A very necessary wheel of any civilization, is a judiciary committed to maintaining the rule of law. Two such men, both lawyers, have inspired me in this regard. Both spent time incarcerated for their belief in fundamental human rights. I speak of Mohandas Gandhi and Bram Fischer both of whom were imprisoned in South Africa. The overly powerful executives of such lofty Prime Ministers as Jan Smuts, an outstanding lawyer himself, and Hendrik Verwoerd, the grand architect of Apartheid, were not loathe to ignore those fundamental human rights and promulgate policies that we now find utterly repugnant. Gandhi is legendary and nothing more need be said, however Bram Fischer is a man who could easily be forgotten. Himself the grandson of a President, and son of a Judge President, many thought Fischer was destined to become either a Prime Minister or the Judge President of South Africa. But, so averse was he to the inherent injustice of Apartheid that, as you all know, he committed political suicide by representing and saving Nelson Mandela amongst others from the death penalty in the celebrated Rivonia trial. In refusing to obey fundamentally unjust laws, he found himself head-to-head with the government of the day, ultimately being jailed for life. Never should we forget his iconic words at his own trial: "I accept, my Lord, the general rule that for protection of society, laws should be obeyed. But when the laws themselves become immoral, and require the citizen to take part in an organised system of oppression – if only by his silence and apathy – then I believe a higher duty arises. This compels one to refuse to recognise such laws." The future indeed concluded that Fischer acted courageously and correctly, though the Red Pimpernel, as he was known, died a reviled outcast. The fourth and last wheel of our ox-wagon, that noble symbol of South Africa, is a powerful Constitutional Court that has the teeth and the will to blow the whistle when governments err. Only a fine sifting in search of jurists with the intuitive ability to divine right from wrong and, even more agonizing, to weigh two rights or two wrongs against each other, will suffice for the Concourt.
It is to this that I speak tonight: The weighing of two rights against each other. We have weighed, yet the scales of justice tip perilously out of balance. In the name of protecting the civil rights of the individual we have created a disaster in which our very national life, built up over hundreds of years, is threatened, not by atomic bombs, nor by religious fanaticism, not even by poverty but by our slowness to grasp how a disease, as virulent as the Black Death, far more subtle than the White Plague, can wield the scythe of destruction. In order to create a caring and more compassionate world, a society that will survive, we are compelled to reassess our attitude and approach to the management of HIV/AIDS or see the civilization that so many have fervently worked to create, come to a nebulous end. I would like to make a comparison. Floods are terrible things. In dramatic and demonstrable ways the world has seen great floods, starting with the flood that made Noah famous, sweep away great masses of people and property. The Bubonic Plague was a veritable flood, destroying a third of Europe’s people in only five years. What I am proposing to you tonight, is that the slow erosion of drought, far less dramatic, inch by inch causes more hardship, more starvation, and more deprivation as it stifles the very life of humanity. Such is HIV/AIDS. Modern medicine has learnt, with its magic bullets, to control and contain the bacterium but this virus, by working in harmony with bacteria, aiding and abetting them, beginning slowly, almost leisurely, has now assumed the nature of a mighty Tsunami. HIV/AIDS is threatening our very survival, enabled by the short-sightedness of certain individuals who, in the name of recognizing the dignity and rights of a relatively small group, have compromised the rights of the majority to life and freedom. We have carefully assembled an organised system of oppression, just as dangerous and wicked as that opposed by Bram Fischer. Politicians, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers are now needlessly dying in ever increasing numbers, not to mention the poor and powerless.
So, tonight I am going to tell you Agnes’s story. It is to my shame that I have to admit that I was the first to bring about her downfall, by asking her to leave her husband during the week, and move in with our family, to care for our small children. We demanded she abandon her husband in order to care for our needs. Such was the gross carelessness and selfishness of white South Africa. Our needs. Some would argue that she was a willing partner to the agreement, which she was, having to travel for four hours a day. Agnes was first and foremost a victim of an Apartheid government which forced her to live far from her place of choice. Secondly, she was a victim of a white family which pressured her into fulfilling their needs, to the neglect of her own. But thirdly, Agnes was a victim of our muddled thinking. Namely, the passionately held conviction held by some in the HIV/AIDS constituency that the status of those infected should be kept a closely guarded secret. This notion to which we have acceded has grossly transgressed the rights of all those not yet infected by HIV. We have a constitutional duty to speak out about the impugned rights of this silent, unknown majority. The fact that it is an unpopular notion is irrelevant, as are our own personal views, including mine. In a nutshell, South African society can be neatly divided into three groups: those • living with HIV/AIDS,
• who will never be infected by the virus,
• who will be infected in the future.
What is different about Southern Africa, is that research has clearly shown that we are host to a extremely promiscuous society, in which the practice of having numerous sexual partners within a short period of time is highly prevalent. This means that our third group, those who will be infected tomorrow, is threatening to become even greater than those already infected with the disease today.
The conflict of this basic human right, the right to health and freedom of information, to which I speak tonight, is global in its effect, although the so-called ‘mature’ nations have managed to recognize and take appropriate action against the scourge. This is not a disease of our own making. It was imported along our own trade routes only 30 years ago. Had we the wisdom of the fourteenth century Sicilians, and isolated the disease when it was still in its infancy, we would not be sitting with the catastrophe we are today faced with. In its world-wide status, its ability to wipe out whole civilizations and kill tens, even hundreds of millions of people, this disease is certainly not unlike the Black Plague that decimated China, the Balkans and Europe in the fourteenth century. The difference is that they did not know about the rat that carried the flea that carried the bug. Santie stopped for emphasis. Looking around slowly she continued: But … we … do … know. We are not ignorant of the facts that it is the promiscuous activity of those infected with the HI virus, knowingly or otherwise, who are infecting innocent people.
We find ourselves in a situation where the rights of two groups of people are in direct confrontation. Those infected with HIV claim they have the right to privacy. Those who will be infected tomorrow claim the right to life, and to information that will protect that life. We have weighed those rights – and, in my opinion, been found wanting. In our metaphor of the ox-wagon, let us not forget the oxen. It is for the common man that the Constitution exists, and not vice versa.
What has muddied the water is the denialism that South Africa still, in some quarters, finds itself. The wealthy and educated fraternity who think it is only the ignorant who are at risk. Politicians who still cling to an anti-science theory of disease and the mistaken belief that it is, in the main, the poor who are affected. A Department of Health that can grasp neither the biology, and even worse the sociology of HIV, instead promoting snake oil. Those who think that ARV’s and a vaccine are our salvation. As the wise and articulate Russian doctor Anton Chekhov, himself a victim of the White Plague, dying at the age of only 44, wrote: When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it can’t be cured.
While Agnes was working to support my family, her husband started sleeping around. By sheer chance, when he was refused a life insurance policy, he discovered that he, in his nocturnal wanderings, had been infected with HIV. It was more than six months before he had the courage to divulge his status to Agnes, but by then it was too late. It is in the first few months after infection that the viral load in the infected person’s fluids is at its peak. On her deathbed I vowed to Agnes that I would prosecute, with all the rigor of the Rule of Law, the rights of uninfected people. They have in the name of freedom of information, that fundamental human right inherent in our Constitution, the right to know who it is that is armed with a weapon, far more cunningly cruel and just as dangerous as any gun or knife. Death by violence, mostly, is quick and clean. Death from HIV/AIDS is a slow, debilitating and torturous death and the movement that seeks to contain this knowledge can be likened to a wave of barbarism and brutality. By prioritizing the right of the infected to secrecy, we have prejudiced the rights of the silent majority, many of whom foolishly think that they will never be infected. No longer can the inaction of government to protect the constitutional rights of this majority be tolerated or justified. Our policy guidelines on the human rights ethos, as it pertains to HIV/AIDS, have been solely based on the needs of those infected by the disease. What is demanded of us is a more nuanced definition as we seek and apply a new ethos that will satisfy the whole of society and not just a small, yet rapidly expanding, segment.
So too we must accept Chekhov’s maxim. It is abundantly clear at this point in time, that the profundity of remedies, herbal, the beetroots and garlic, the ARV’s and even the elusive vaccines, clearly vindicate the belief that HIV/AIDS is not going to be cured in the foreseeable future, and it won’t go away as many naively hoped it would. We must urgently look to prevention. No, tonight I speak not of Holocaust or Apartheid, those stark pillars on the landscape of Man that attest to Man’s inhumanity to Man, when society had no effective Bill of Rights, no ox-wagons that would thwart the Hitlers and Verwoerds of this world. Neither brought their respective civilizations to collapse though, as almost everyone here tonight can attest, they certainly brought their worlds to their knees. I speak of a Constitutional Court that has not reasonably weighed two rights; already this has directly caused the death of more South Africans than either World War 2 or Apartheid ever did. And the Tsunami has not yet hit the beaches. It is still gathering momentum for its awful climax.
Though we may not care about the poor, or women and children, despite our lofty claims, yet let us honestly acknowledge that also teachers, doctors, large numbers of politicians, yes even judges, men and women of letters, relative wealth and supposed wisdom are all now at risk. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you who are sitting right here in this auditorium with all your power and authority to govern are also being decimated by the HI-virus. Now, esteemed colleagues and friends, we are going to conduct a social experiment that many of you will find disturbing. If you can’t handle the pressure then you are free to leave. There are sitting here this evening approximately a thousand people. If you were a normal population of South Africa, which you are not, then about fifty of you would be infected with the HI virus. So, I would like 50 people please from this corner of the auditorium –Santie pointed to an area that she knew included several cabinet ministers and a judge - to come up and join me on the stage. If you know you are HIV positive, and are not afraid to make it publicly known, then I invite you to join them. Fifty persons, roughly thirty women and twenty men to observe the known 60/40 ratio.
Uncertain at first, glancing hesitantly at one another, a few people came up onto the stage. A few more followed, perhaps twenty in all. Santie chided them: Come, come, ladies and gentlemen. This is only a game; a deadly game I may add. Those of you who remain are going to be more disturbed by what follows that those courageous people standing up here on the stage with me. At this, in dribs and drabs, another thirty-odd people joined them on the stage.
Now, only half of these people know they are infected by the virus, she said pointing to those on stage. The other twenty-five are oblivious of their HIV positive status. We are going to give these beautiful red scarves to those who know their status, which they incidentally may keep. There was a surge forward when the group on stage saw the beautiful scarves, each embroidered with tiny gold ribbons, hanging them gaily around their necks. Now to those who don’t know their status, who are oblivious of the fact they are infected, we are going to give white scarves. The second group of twenty-five showed none of the eagerness of their friends on stage. Reluctantly they donned their scarves.
Good. Now, none of you sitting down there are infected with the HI virus. But sitting amongst you, is our third group. It is a nebulous group. You don’t know who you are. I don’t either. However, our esteemed friends standing up here on the stage have a pretty shrewd idea who will be joining their ranks. You see, you, the third group will be infected sometime during your lifetime by the virus. For simplicity, we are going to assume you will all be infected tonight. We of course don’t know how many of you there are, but unless our attitudes change, and change dramatically, current research suggests that you will probably number about 200 people. So … turning to those on the stage, Santie continued: please won’t you go down back into the auditorium, and take someone by the hand, preferably someone you know, and bring them back up onto the stage with you. Don’t be shy. Mostly someone of the opposite sex but, if you are a man, it could be another man too. If you see a prominent politician, or a judge whom you know, then make sure you choose them. This virus doesn’t discriminate.
There was a buzz from the auditorium as the fifty people on stage, gaily clad with their red and white scarves, headed for the crowd of seated people sitting below them, eagerly looking for friends and colleagues, merrily entering into the spirit of the deadly game. Only half a dozen had returned to the stage when there was a shout from the back of the auditorium. Santie recognized a prominent politician. “You can’t do this, Professor Veenstra. This is an outrage.”
If you can’t stand the heat, then you are free to leave, Mr Saunders. Ignoring him Santie turned back to the group of nearly one hundred people trooping awkwardly, silently, on to the stage. In contrast, there was a noisy buzz in the body of the auditorium as angry people started arguing with their neighbours about what was happening. Santie continued in a loud voice, addressing those on stage with her: Thank you for your brave participation. None of you newcomers, of course, now know that you are infected by HIV. You are all going to get black scarves. Why black? Why not white? Because current research indicates that it is the newly infected who have the highest viral load in their semen and blood. You are the most highly infectious. To add to the occasion, the drama department has made us this death’s head. I am going to ask one of our fifty black-scarved friends to wear it.
All fifty of those representing newly infected persons were handed black scarves, also embroidered with tiny gold ribbons. Some took them hesitantly, and a few refused them. The Minister of Information bravely donned the death’s head. Now, would all one hundred of you go back down into the auditorium and fetch more of your friends, neighbours and colleagues. At this the buzz from the auditorium turned into a pandemonium. Everywhere, people were hurriedly grabbing their jackets and bags and storming out of the auditorium. Less than five hundred remained. Interestingly Santie recognized that not a single one of the scarved people had left.
Santie continued her lecture: A big thank you to our courageous friends. You may now return to your seats. You have more than adequately made your point. These scarves incidentally were made especially for this occasion by women living with AIDS in the Northern Province. You may keep them as a memento. Thank you, one and all, for remaining. You have demonstrated your willingness to struggle with difficult issues, so now I am going to pose certain questions. All of you I presume felt threatened in some way. You had no idea whether our friends here on stage were going to choose you out for a partner. What I want to know is, did you feel your rights were being threatened? What were you thinking when you saw a colleague or friend with a scarf approaching you with that winning smile? Did you stop and think that this process could continue indefinitely? Those two hundred persons now infected could make yet another sortie back into your midst? Did you recognize that in many ways this is a random process? Not only the poor and indigent amongst you were called up here onto the stage. There was at least one professor and a Cabinet Minister up here on the stage with me.
I am not suggesting the establishment of leper colonies or consumption sanatoria. It’s far too late for that. However the wisdom of the ages suggests that in some way the sick must be isolated when they suffer from diseases with which we cannot cope, as uncomfortable as that may seem. The Jews did it with considerable success with leprosy as did other civilizations, even our own. The Sicilians tried it but it was too late. However the intention was correct. Once Thomas Koch managed to isolate and stain the tuberculosis bacillus, Europe employed isolation, as did South Africa. There is absolutely nothing unusual about this. Public Health departments in most countries have requirements for certain infectious diseases, to facilitate detection and surveillance. What is unusual, actually unique, is the way HIV/AIDS has escaped this requirement. What I am promoting tonight is:
• Easy access to state-sponsored, voluntary universal testing and the ready availability of the treatment of choice to every single South African.
• Making HIV a notifiable disease should be a priority and, should voluntary testing fail to gain popularity, compulsory testing should be considered but only as a last resort. Regular re-testing should be encouraged since it has now been proved that those newly infected are most likely to pass on the disease.
• A desperately needed more nuanced definition and application of the human rights ethos that will guide policies on HIV/AIDS.
• An honest evaluation of cultural practices that are harmful to women, particularly, in the words of the UN special envoy on Aids, Elizabeth Mataka, the requirement that daughters should be submissive and obedient.
Medical scientists now inform us that we in South Africa are now faced with one thousand deaths every day, and even more new infections. Soon death will haunt every other family if we don’t do something. Medical scientists also inform us that, despite much research, a vaccine is not guaranteeable in the foreseeable future.
We know honourable guests what to do to stop the spread of this disease; we just aren’t doing it. The law, as expressed in the Constitution, adequately covers these issues – in general terms. But, in the specifics of HIV/AIDS, our interpretation of these core principles has been embarrassingly unsophisticated for an open and free society. In defense of the academics of the Apartheid era, they had to work under extremely oppressive circumstances, but we live in a free society, and yet we still are effectively discriminating against the majority. Should we fail to convince South Africa, then we face a future to ghastly to contemplate, and compulsory testing will become inevitable. There is now no point in turning this into an open debate. I hope you will all go back into the crucible of life, turn up the heat, and take this discussion back to the people. Avoid considering the superficial questions that demands an answer. There is no simple answer, nor should we seek one. There is no single key that will unlock this door. Rather, let us humanely and compassionately consider the hopeless position of those currently infected with HIV, and the need for all South Africans to be set free from the fear of being infected tomorrow. That could be any one of us sitting here tonight, and even more those ostriches who chose to leave. A new phase of the fight against South Africa’s deadliest enemy is about to begin. I hope that the soul of Agnes, calling from the other side, has lifted the veil from your eyes, enabling you to see the Grim Reaper as he stalks our land. He cherishes tonight the very life of many South Africans. Only there is no dried brown stain on his scythe, for Aids is ironically a chilling and seemingly bloodless disease.
The people deserve something more than the soulless platitudes of those who strive for the anonymity of the infected, serving only to add daily a thousand to their ranks. South Africa is relying on you to go out start the process of saving the nation. Together we can do it. Keep the promise. In conclusion, I thank you for your participation, and your support by remaining behind so that we could have a dignified end to my first lecture.
Our newsletter is entitled "create a cyan zone" at your home, preserving both yourself and Mother Earth for future generations; and your family too, of course. We promise not to spam you with daily emails promoting various products. You may get an occasional nudge to buy one of my books.
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"A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it."
-Lewis H. Lapham
The press, in the main, simply reported the proceedings, giving the lecture front-page coverage. Editorial comment was muted. Santie received many phone calls in the ensuing weeks, some highly critical, others praising her for her courage and original thought. What was quite unexpected was the phone call ten days later, while Santie was in a planning meeting with her staff.
This novel is about the love affair of two women, and the four children that they by hook and mainly by crook conceived, unknown to Peter Thomas, a Physics major and subsequently a teacher at Ashton High in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands in South Africa.
Part I is available free of charge.
Part I, Ch 1: JAN JANSEN ...
Part II and III are now available as an ebook for only $0.99. It's a long book, each part equivalent to a normal novel.
South African Constitution (from Part III) was released early in celebration of the South African elections.
You still have time this spring to join all those who are growing butternut squash. Apart from being the sweetest summer squash, it's one of the few vegetable sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Nothing to do with the South African Constitution.
We send out a joint monthly newsletter. It covers an overview of a health topic (June 2010 issue #15 Tietzes Syndrome. Breastbone pain., always a nutritional corner (such as Eggplant for high cholesterol), and a piece from Bernard Preston.
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