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An Open Letter to Gareth Cliff

by Tumi Molekane / 19.12.2009

Dear Gareth Cliff,

I don’t follow you on twitter, I don’t listen to your radio show, I have never tried to watch your talk show and I can’t ignore you on Idols, I try. I am not a fair man, but if I were, I would say you make valid layman critiques of people’s talents or lack thereof. I would say you are a successful and loveable South African personality worth all the attention and endorsements you get. But I am not saying that. Oh no, I am saying you are an idiot.

The death of South Africa’s former Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has brought the worst out of you. I heard/read of her death through a tweet of yours retweeted by someone I follow.

You wrote:

“Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers – all 3 of them…”

I thought you were joking about her career being dead or her political life, so I made a few calls and confirmed that she indeed had passed away. I considered her life, her family and her legacy and then went back to read with disbelief your statement. This motherfucker is out of his mind, she is dead. Dead. You still talking shit and she is dead. Many other people felt the same way.

DJ Sbu popular disc jockey and personality said:

“Gareth my brother, av lost family members 2 HIV/AIDS too didn’t agree wit a lot of her decisions but after her passion u tweet tht, ur an ass”

I can only imagine that the “passion” DJ Sbu is talking about is her years given in service of the movement that was at the forefront of liberating South Africa from the tyranny of Apartheid. And the decisions he did not agree with related to her controversial assertions about HIV and its relation to AIDS. Or her much publicised fight with the Treatment Action Campaign.

Suede blogger and twitter enthusiast said:

“Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was a mother, a daughter, a human being. The respect you pay her in death is respect to those she left behind.”

You live, work and are a citizen of a country whose people respect and hold its dead in high-esteem across cultural and race lines. I am pretty sure even you are familiar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings which centred around parents wanting the remains of their children killed by Apartheid police agents. You know this, and instead of being sensitive to these people’s beliefs you deliberately go on a public forum and insult South Africa’s recently deceased former Health minister. You should know better. You can’t possibly be that ignorant or arrogant? Or can you? Your timing was also perfect. You chose to make that statement on Reconciliation day. A day charged with fostering reconciliation and national unity.

Of course there are people who agreed with your statement, followers that believe, “death doesn’t earn you an automatic pass to respect” or others who said, “why all the h8 towards Gareth Cliff? Is he not entitled to his opinion? Whether you agree or not, you can’t change his mind.” Or, “have to agree with the Manto comment. She has blood on her hands, why change our views just because she drank herself 2 death?”

I would not like to deny you your right to an opinion, neither do I want you to lie about your true feelings because Dr Tshabalala-Msimang is dead, although it must be noted that without much prompting you quickly changed your weekly abusive tirades on Michael Jackson to adoration once the pop star was late, even participating in a tribute to the king of pop. Was that you changing how you feel or opportunism?

I would only hope Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s death would make you reflect on her life, that’s why we have funerals brother. We look back at a life and examine that person’s triumphs and shortcomings and draw lessons to which we can lead our own lives. Even the general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, an organisation which fought so acrimoniously her stance on AZT, was courtly enough to say:

“We don’t wish ill on any human being even though we had a very difficult time with her as minister of health. We are sending our condolences to her family and children.”

In my opinion the SABC should force an apology out of you in the least; at the most you should be fired. Even though you said the statement in your private capacity on twitter, you defended it on radio the next morning. That arrogant defiance is just as bad if not worse to me. Not too mention you are still the 5fm DJ to the 20000 people who follow you on twitter. But opportunely, your statement has raised some interesting issues. So I will take the advice of your 5fm colleague DJ Fresh who tweeted:

“I don’t agree with Gareth’s approach, but attacking the man and not the ‘issue’ is futile, debate101”

I also take issue with the way your statement defines her legacy. Did you know her? Did you know her family? Do you know what lead her to exile in Russia? What lead her to medicine? What sacrifices she made for this democracy? No sir, your experience of her is that manipulated, ridiculed and caricatured public persona. I refuse to let you present that as her legacy.

I don’t agree with insulting your president and ridiculing your leadership. Whether by Julius Malema, Helen Zille or the Mail & Guardian? I think this kind of disrespect has far reaching consequences for us as a nation. Instead of reading articles that explore with the aim to promote understanding why, for instance, President Zuma has so many wives, we in turn humiliate and mock the man. Before we examine former President Mbeki’s standpoint on HIV we call him a kook. We further undermine our laws on freedom of speech by parading opinions as facts and hiding behind newspaper profit margins and censorship. This is no way of building and nurturing a non-racial, democratic South Africa.

There is a myth that claims there is a definitive consensus on what the scientific community believes about HIV/AIDS. This is not true. When former president Mbeki put together an international AIDS advisory panel to ascertain why AIDS is defined different in Africa to the way it is defined in western countries and if AZTs cause more harm than good, he together with his health minister Dr Manto were vilified and demonised. I don’t know what was discovered or discussed at this International AIDS advisory committee but it seems like that scientific debate does not apply to HIV/AIDS. 2008 Nobel Laureate Dr Luc Montagnier who discovered HIV claimed the following:

“We can be exposed to HIV many times without being chronically infected, our immune system will get rid of the virus within a few weeks, if you have a good immune system; and this is also the problem of African people. Their nutrition is not very equilibrated; they are in oxidative stress, even if they are not infected with HIV; so their immune system doesn’t work well already. So its prone, it can, you know, allow HIV to get in and persist. We should push for more, you know, a combination of measures; antioxidants, nutrition advice, nutrition, fighting other infections – Malaria, TB, parasitosis, worms – education of course, genital hygiene for men and women also.”

This seems amazing to me, don’t you think Gareth? Like something we should explore, especially since we claim to care about the scores of people dying of this pandemic. I would like to think Dr Manto believed this and tried to give it her scientific attention, after all beetroots and garlic constitute a great nutritional diet.

So there brother, even when you don’t know it, you are helping us get further as a country, for without idiots like you revealing your ignorance, intelligent motherfuckers like me can’t call you out.

Be good.

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