by Celean Jacobson
JOHANNESBURG (AP)—South Africa’s former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who gained notoriety for her dogged promotion of lemons, garlic and olive oil to treat AIDS, has died. She was 69. The ruling African National Congress said Tshabalala-Msimang died in a Johannesburg hospital Dec. 16 from complications related to a 2007 liver transplant.
Tshabalala-Msimang’s disastrous HIV policies during her nine years in office made her the most unpopular government minister in post-apartheid South Africa. She was ridiculed locally and internationally and nicknamed “Dr. Beetroot”—another one of her suggested AIDS remedies—and “Dr. Garlic.”
However, she was responsible for some advances. She improved basic services in rural areas, forced down the price of medicine, tried to stem the exodus of doctors and nurses to rich countries, and was one of the driving forces behind a global anti-tobacco treaty.
A former anti-apartheid activist, she spent nearly 30 years in exile.
“We pay homage to this gallant fighter and will forever treasure the contribution she made in the struggle for liberation and the building of our democracy,” the ANC said in a statement.
Tshabalala-Msimang had a loyal defender in her close friend, former President Thabo Mbeki, partly because of his own doubts about the link between HIV and AIDS. She was replaced in 2008 after Mbeki was ousted by the ANC.
Tshabalala-Msimang and Mbeki have been blamed for not preventing over 300,000 deaths, according to Harvard University study. There have been calls by activists for them to be charged with genocide.
South Africa, a nation of about 50 million, has the world’s largest number of HIV cases with some 5.7 million people infected with the virus.
The country’s two subsequent health ministers have won praise for breaking with Tshabalala-Msimang’s confrontational approach.
Tshabalala-Msimang repeatedly stressed her mistrust of antiretroviral medicine, saying too little was known about the side effects.
“All I am bombarded about is antiretrovirals, antiretrovirals,” she said at a 2005 media conference. “There are other things we can be assisted in doing to respond to HIV/AIDS in this country.”
Tshabalala-Msimang’s recommendation was to use nutritional remedies such as olive oil, the African potato, beetroot, garlic and lemon.
“Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon—not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease,” she said.
Her views—which made her a favorite target for cartoonists—reflected mistrust in traditional African societies of “Western” remedies and earned her loyal supporters.
She shrugged off constant calls for her resignation, which reached a crescendo at the August 2006 international AIDS conference in Toronto, where the South African stand featured displays of garlic and lemons.
Tshabalala-Msimang was born near Durban Oct. 9, 1940. She was elected to parliament at the first democratic multiparty elections in 1994, was named deputy justice minister in 1996 and health minister in June 1989.
She was married to Mendi Msimang, a former ANC treasurer, and had two daughters.