ONE OF OUR most capable, principled ANC politicians has been fired. In some ways, her dismissal was to be expected. Her open, frank and honest engagement of health and HIV/Aids issues has long riled her denialist superiors, Manto and Mbeki.
Madlala-Routledge gained fame as a proponent of ARV treatment versus the inadequacies of nutrition in the fight against Aids. She had an HIV/Aids test and encouraged other public figures to do the same. Together with the deputy president, she engineered the government’s five-year Aids action plan which has won plaudits. And then, in response to the mounting concern about shocking infant mortality rates at East London’s Frere Hospital, she paid a surprise visit and, after inspecting the situation, announced that what she saw was a “national emergency”.
In the swirling tides of ruling party sycophancy, Madlala-Routledge has stood out as a courageous beacon – someone who was prepared to act and speak out about what she believed was right. She paid for it with removal from office. The response has been an outcry: civil society, most notably the Treatment Action Campaign (the feisty NGO she was instrumental in reconciling with the once impervious Health Department), has been outspoken in its condemnation of her firing. So, too, have COSATU and the opposition parties. Government – led by the president no less! – has resorted to issuing inadequate, blustering responses (including Madlala-Routledge’s letter of dismissal) that wholeheartedly fail to justify her dismissal.
What does the future hold for the woman who “spoke truth to power”? Will she be joining the opposition bandwagon – the ranks of which she incidentally has so much in common? That is doubtful. Though she may share their frankness, she is shrewd enough to realise that Mbeki and his ilk will not be running (or ruining for that matter) the ANC forever. The winds of change are soon to blow through the cracking monolith that is the ruling party. She will bide her time till a new captain leads the way. Should a moderate come to the fore (as the optimistic in me predicts), it is more than likely she will find herself in the cabinet again.
This time as the Minister of Health.