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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 12:35 GMT
Mbeki resolute on Aids stance
South African President Thabo Mbeki
The speech will disappoint many South Africans
President Thabo Mbeki has used his annual state of the nation address to call for the moral regeneration of South Africa to combat the scourges of Aids, crime and poverty.

Source: Medical Research Council

But he has once again dashed hopes that he will change the government's heavily criticised policy on anti-retroviral drugs.

Mr Mbeki said the key to fighting Aids was public awareness and prevention and he again tied the struggle with the campaign against poverty and malnutrition.

In his speech marking the new session of parliament in Cape Town, the president also refrained from any criticism of President Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The address is likely to disappoint a growing number of South Africans who have urged him to get tough on Zimbabwe and to change his policies on Aids.

Aids controversy

The president said he was committed to an intensified fight against Aids, but defended his policy of not making anti-retroviral drugs available to HIV-positive pregnant women in state hospitals.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mbeki is under increasing pressure to get tough with Zimbabwe

Mr Mbeki said the drugs had become more affordable through the government's successful negotiations with pharmaceutical companies.

Only about 10% of HIV-positive pregnant women in South Africa have access to the medication which can save their babies from infection - and the president is directly blamed by critics for this.

In the past, he has queried the link between HIV and Aids, and dubbed anti-retroviral drugs dangerous .

On Thursday, his predecessor Nelson Mandela spoke of the need for South Africa to fight a war against HIV and Aids and confront the issue of mother-to-child transmission - in remarks that seemed to be a direct criticism of Mr Mbeki.

South Africa has the single biggest HIV-positive population in the world, estimated at five million or 11% of its population.


Mr Mbeki also said his government was committed to ensuring that next month's presidential elections in Zimbabwe are free and fair.

Let the people of Zimbabwe speak through the ballot box!

Thabo Mbeki

Mr Mbeki told MPs he would work tirelessly to let the people of Zimbabwe speak through the ballot box.

Mr Mbeki, who's been under increasing international pressure to respond to rising political unrest in Zimbabwe, also confirmed that South Africa would send an observer mission to monitor the election.

"Clearly, the mission and the conditions that our teams seek to create are one and one only: let the people of Zimbabwe speak through the ballot box!" he told parliament.

Poverty and education

Listing some of the achievements since the first post-apartheid election eight years ago, Mr Mbeki said seven million more people had piped water and three-and-a-half million had gained access to electricity.

South African Aids patient
Five million South Africans have Aids

He told MPs his government was focussing particularly on the eradication of poverty, a struggle which he called "fundamental to the well being of society".

Mr Mbeki said there was scope for tax cuts especially for poorer people, although he ignored some calls to abandon strict adherence to conservative fiscal and monetary policy which he called "seeking solace in the past".

On education, Mr Mbeki said he would intensify efforts to register children eligible for grants and continue the school building programme to "ensure that no child studies under a tree".

He also announced a pledge by the US software giant Microsoft to provide software to all of South Africa's 32,000 public schools.

The address was a colourful affair with many MPs dressed in traditional African costumes adorned with beads who broke into song after the dark-suited Mr Mbeki ended his address.

The BBC's David Chazan
"President Thabo Mbeki mopped his brow under the strong African sun as he entered parliament"
See also:

07 Feb 02 | Africa
Mandela urges 'war' on HIV
08 Feb 02 | Africa
Boost for Africa Aids funding
07 Feb 02 | Africa
Mandela 'clean' of cancer
19 Dec 01 | Africa
SA to fight Aids drug ruling
01 Jun 01 | Africa
South African Aids icon dies
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