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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Questions over death of Mbeki aide
Parks Mankahlana (File photo)
Parks Mankahlana: High profile spokesman for Mandela and Mbeki
By Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg

Phakamile "Parks" Mankahlana, presidential spokesman for both Nelson Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki, died suddenly on Thursday after what the presidency described as a "long illness".

The premature passing of Parks Mankahlana has been described as a tragedy for South Africa, not least because of the silence that still surrounds the nature of his death.

He was only 36 years old and there is intense speculation that the illness was Aids-related, leading to calls for the government to be more open about the epidemic that is claiming the lives of thousands of South Africans in the public sphere.

Many colleagues and close friends believe he died of an Aids-related illness, yet neither his family, the ruling African National Congress whom he served selflessly, nor the presidency will say.

HIV/Aids still carries an immense stigma in South Africa, and countless young South Africans are dying alone, in silence and shame as a result of the lack of public awareness and support for the more than four million people who are currently living with Aids-related illnesses.

As condolences and tributes have been pouring in, one of South Africa's foremost Aids awareness lobby groups, the Treatment Action Campaign has called on the government to "tell the truth" about Mankahlana's death, and to publicly acknowledge that a number of senior government officials are also living with HIV/Aids.

High profile

Parks Mankahlana had a very high profile after the first democratic elections in 1994.

During his six years as Mandela's spokesman he developed an excellent relationship with the media.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
President Mbeki: Under fire over Aids policy
He was open and outgoing, with a ready smile, engaging manner and willing ear for any question or off-the-record debate.

His image, and reputation suffered a major setback when he lied to the press about President Mandela's pending marriage to Graca Machel, and the "open lie" continued to haunt him during his transition from one president to the other.

Under Thabo Mbeki, Parks's relationship with the press steadily deteriorated. He became defensive and hostile on occasion, and his statements were described as erratic and angry.

He was cited in two paternity suits by different women in the province of Mpumulanga, where he spent much of his youth as a member of the ANC youth league.

There was intense media coverage of the lawsuits. But perhaps worse for Mankahlana, he had to undergo obligatory blood tests to determine paternity which led to reports on his HIV status.

Aids stance

No matter what the private torment he might have been going through, Parks was also obliged to publicly defend President Mbeki's controversial stance on the HIV/Aids epidemic, and the government's refusal to offer anti-retroviral drugs to people living with the ravages of Aids.

Nelson Mandela: Good relations with the media
He once remarked to a journalist that "The profiteers will disappear to the affluent beaches of the world to enjoy wealth accumulated from a humankind ravaged by a dreaded disease. And we will continue to die of Aids," revealing a heartfelt bitterness over the profits made out of anti-retroviral drugs by the major pharmaceutical companies.

Shortly before the 13th international Aids conference in Durban, Mankahlana commented that the declaration signed by 5,000 pre-eminent scientists on the latest findings around the HIV/Aids pandemic "belonged in a dustbin".

The premature passing of Parks Mankahlana has been described as a tragedy for South Africa, not least because of the silence that still surrounds the nature of his death.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Africa
SA's new war against Aids
11 Jul 00 | Africa
Aids threat to Africa's economy
14 Sep 00 | Africa
'Don't call me Manto'
14 Sep 00 | Africa
SA Government steps into Aids row
14 Jul 00 | Health
Pressure on Mbeki over Aids
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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