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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 17:13 GMT
Doubts over Zimbabwe Aids tax

By Joseph Winter in Harare

As the United Nations Security Council debates Aids in Africa, one of the worst affected countries, Zimbabwe, is introducing an Aids levy to help fight the disease.

From this month, Zimbabweans will pay 3% more income tax than they did previously.



Why should I pay more taxes to look after the promiscuous?
Common question
The additional revenue will be channelled into a fund to care for those affected by Aids and in particular, the almost one million children left orphaned.

But the levy has come in for some fierce criticism. "Why should I pay more taxes to look after the promiscuous?" ask some.

Priorities wrong?


Aids orphans Aids orphans are supposed to benefit from the new tax
Others say that the government already has enough money but it has got its priorities wrong.

They say that defence spending should be cut to finance the Aids fund.

Remembering recent drought and development levies, some question whether the money will actually be spent on fighting Aids rather than being poured into state coffers and spent on, for example, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Aids in Zimbabwe
Up to 200 Aids-related deaths each day
One Zimbabwean in 13 is an Aids orphan
In some areas 40% of pregnant women have HIV
Life expectancy has shrunk from 69 to 56
Three months after the Aids levy was announced, the fund itself has still not been set up.

The Zimbabwe Confederation of Trades Unions had called for a general strike over the issue.

But it has now put the strike plans on hold, after being told that those on low wages would not be affected, and when groups representing people living with Aids started marching through city centres in support of the levy.

High infection rate

There is no denying that drastic action is required and quickly.

One Zimbabwean in four is HIV positive and, in some areas, 40% of pregnant women have the virus.



These days you're a grandfather if you reach 40
Young Zimbabwean
In a population of around 12 million, up to 200 die every single day from Aids-related complications.

In a sharp break with tradition, many people have now stopped paying their respects at the funerals of more distant friends and relatives, saying that otherwise they would spend their whole lives in cemeteries.


Mourner at funeral Life expectancy has been greatly reduced
Life expectancy - once comparable to rich countries at 69 - has already been cut to 56 and is forecast to shrink even further.

I recently asked one young man about his future plans and he looked at me with a glazed expression and said, "I don't have any; these days you're a grandfather if you reach 40."

Information shortage

Another reason for suspicion over the Aids levy is the government's track record.

Since the disease came to public attention in the 1980s, little has been done and the problem was long swept under the carpet.


Wreath Up to 200 Zimbabweans die every day from Aids-related diseases
Information campaigns only make rare appearances on national radio or television, in contrast to most African countries.

Team after team of officials has gone to Uganda - the one place which has apparently managed to turn back the Aids onslaught.

They come back with the same messages: "We must promote condoms and we must be open."

But little changes. Prominent personalities, whose deaths are announced in the media, either pass away "after a short illness" or "after a long illness".

The truth is never released into the public arena, where it may help save lives.

Message ignored

Health Minister Timothy Stamps continues to reject the use of condoms, instead preaching, "abstinence before marriage".

Aids workers say that young Zimbabweans ignore this message and, not having been told about safe sex, they end up joining the massed ranks of the HIV positive.

Reacting to the UN's interest in the question, one Aids campaigner, Andrew Mutandwa, says, "Compared to the number of those infected in Africa, the US$150 million promised is a drop in the ocean but it is a good thing.

"Maybe the UN and the big powers will put pressure on our governments to take more action."

Zimbabweans, whatever their HIV status, are now waiting with bated breath to see how the money raised from the Aids levy will be spent.

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See also:
12 May 99 |  Aids
Zimbabwe struggles against Aids onslaught
13 Jan 00 |  Africa
Zambia study suggests Aids campaign success
27 Nov 98 |  Aids
Life expectancy in Africa plummets due to Aids
11 Jan 00 |  Africa
UN Aids plan welcomed
10 Jan 00 |  Africa
US boost for Aids fight
04 Oct 99 |  Africa
Africa on the Aids frontline
01 Dec 99 |  World
UN highlights Aids orphans
24 Nov 99 |  Africa
Mixed response to Africa's Aids epidemic
14 Sep 99 |  Aids
African countries list Aids priorities

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