By Fungi Kwaramba
Knives have been drawn out against deputy Finance minister Terrence Mukupe after he made remarks live on radio that exposed the stigmatisation that still runs deep in the officialdom towards people living with HIV and Aids.
Although Mukupe is not a medical doctor and has no knowledge of former Finance minister Tendai Biti’s medical history, the Harare East legislator claimed on Thursday that his political rival was taking anti-retroviral drugs during a heated exchange aired on a local radio station.
Biti is one of the candidates challenging Mukupe for the Harare East constituency at the forthcoming harmonised polls to be held in July.
The People’s Democratic Party leader, who does not take prisoners, drew the ire of the former banker when he said the radio station should not invite him to debate a clown and drunkard.
He also took umbrage at Mukupe for his repeated interjections while he spoke.
They were deafening calls yesterday for the junior minister to be fired from government with critics trending under hashtag #MukupeMustFall to drive the point home.
United Kingdom-based law professor, Alex Magaisa, said it boggles the mind how President Emmerson Mnangagwa ended up with someone like Mukupe as a minister.
“Mr President, how did this chap become a minister in your government? What kind of behaviour is this — reversing all the gains that have been made to de-stigmatise HIV/Aids by making such stupid and cheap comments? This chap is a liability.
“Can’t someone take that pick from his hands? Mukupe just keeps on digging the hole. First he says the military will not respect the will of the people. When challenged he draws the race card and accuses his critic of racism. Now he deals the HIV card. Real cheap. Utter disgrace,” said Magaisa.
In an unprecedented move, even the Zanu PF youth league joined in by calling for action against the minister.
“We are fighting towards eradicating the stigma attached to HIV/Aids. Statements that seem to use one’s HIV status as a way of humiliating them directly sabotage government and the party’s efforts in fighting this stigma. We unreservedly condemn the deplorable utterances by … Mukupe,” the youth league said in a statement issued on its Twitter handle.
Lawyer and aspiring independent candidate for Mt Pleasant constituency, Fadzai Mahere, said government must take action against Mukupe.
“I hope the government issues a press statement condemning Mukupe’s utterances as ‘reckless and most unfortunate.’ There’s no honour in mocking/stigmatising HIV. It’s a matter of regret that he weaponised an issue the nation has made so much progress on. Politics aside, this is sad,” said Mahere.
Thokozani Khupe-led MDC vice president, Obert Gutu, said it was a well-documented fact that almost every family in Zimbabwe had been affected by the Aids pandemic in one way or another.
“We have got friends and relatives who have been infected with the HIV virus and indeed, millions of dollars have been pumped into the global fight against Aids. It’s a total shame for anyone, more so a public figure and government minister to stigmatise people living with HIV,” said Gutu.
“Assuming he has got a sense of responsibility (which doesn’t appear likely from his numerous public gaffes), Mukupe should just proceed to do the honourable thing and immediately resign as a government minister and Member of Parliament”.
Gutu said if Mukupe does not resign voluntarily, Mnangagwa should give him the boot forthwith.
“Surely, if Webster Shamu could be sacked for attempting to rig a primary election, why should Mukupe remain in government after committing an even more serious and catastrophic transgression? Is Mukupe untouchable and if so, why?”
The secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Raymond Majongwe, said government, particularly the National Aids Council (Nac), should deal with Mukupe for reversing the gains that have been made against the once feared disease.
“Stigmatisation of people living with HIV is reaching alarming levels. The reckless statement by Mukupe cannot go unchallenged. How can we progress as a nation with such a leadership? The nation expects Nac to act,” said Majongwe.
Reacting to Mukupe’s statements, political activist Grace Kwinje, said the lawmaker was “exposing Mnangagwa for the liar and hypocrite he is”.
Action Aid director Joy Mabenge described Mukupe as “a disaster of monumental proportions. Stigmatising HIV/Aids on national radio was very low, extremely low!! Be professional Mukupe. You are a typical minister Zimbabweans do not need,” said Mabenge.
With an adult prevalence rate of 13,7 percent, Zimbabwe is one of the five countries hardest hit by the HIV and Aids scourge globally.
An estimated 1 102 864 million people — one in five Zimbabwean adults — were living with HIV and Aids in 2009 while approximately 66 073 people died of Aids related causes.
In southern Africa, Zimbabwe has the greatest access to antiretroviral treatment (ART), with 75 percent of people living with HIV on treatment, equivalent to over a million people.
In 2016, the country adopted a ‘‘treat all’’ policy towards ART, meaning all people should be started on treatment immediately, regardless of their CD4 count. Daily News