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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
SA's pacifist politician fights back
By Peter Biles
BBC News, Johannesburg

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge
Ms Madlala-Routledge is a Quaker and well-known pacifist
South Africa's sacked Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge sprang to prominence in the second half of 2006 when her superior Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was taken ill and underwent a liver transplant.

During the health minister's absence, Ms Madlala-Routledge succeeded in repairing the relationship between government and civil society.

She was widely praised for her open approach to the HIV/Aids crisis in South Africa.

Ms Madlala-Routledge was brought up in KwaZulu-Natal and studied at Natal and Fort Hare Universities.

She worked for six years as a medical laboratory technologist, but resigned to become a full-time organiser for the Natal Organisation of Women.

Defence

In 1979, she joined the underground movement of the African National Congress (ANC) and later the South African Communist Party, which was also banned at the time.

The government has acknowledged that there is an important need for us to communicate a single, consistent and clear message on treatment of HIV
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge

After entering parliament, she was appointed deputy minister of defence in 1999.

However, as a Quaker and well-known pacifist, she later confided that there were moments when she felt uneasy about her defence portfolio.

It was as deputy health minister from 2004 that she began to make an impression.

Together with Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who heads the South African National Aids Council, Ms Madlala-Routledge attended the government's World Aids Day celebrations in the eastern town of Nelspruit last December.

In an interview with the BBC on that occasion, she brought a refreshing honesty to the public debate.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge taking an HIV test
Ms Madlala-Routledge took an Aids test to encourage others to do so

"The government has acknowledged that there is an important need for us to communicate a single, consistent and clear message on treatment of HIV," she said.

Referring to earlier policy, she added: "There was, unfortunately, a situation where the government was seen to be saying that nutrition can replace treatment with anti-retroviral drugs.

"This is not the case. Our comprehensive plan is clear. When immunity reaches a level where the body can no longer cope, it is important to use ARVs."

Centre stage

She also explained how she had gone to a rural area to undergo an HIV test.

President Thabo Mbeki
President Mbeki is a close ally of Madlala-Routledge's former boss

The local clinic which Ms Madlala-Routledge visited, receives an average of 10 patients a day for testing.

However, the deputy minister's public involvement was seen as encouragement to the campaign to encourage more people to find out their HIV status.

The deputy minister's husband, Jeremy, also underwent an HIV test.

As the deputy minister took centre stage in the fight against HIV/Aids, there were the clear signs of a rift within the Department of Health.

Ms Tshabalala-Msimang returned to work earlier this year, after her prolonged period of sick leave, and the deputy minister began to find herself increasingly sidelined.

The bonds of loyalty between Ms Tshabalala-Msimang and President Thabo Mbeki stretch back to 1962 when the two of them were part of a small group of students who made the hazardous journey into exile to escape apartheid South Africa.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge now enjoys the distinction of being the only minister or deputy minister that President Thabo Mbeki has ever chosen to fire.




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