South African Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. She has taken a keen interest in the growth of diabetes within the population.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire Photo File.
MADLALA-ROUTLEDGE NO ORDINARY POLITICIAN
Last week one of the organisers of the International Diabetes
Congress, held in Cape Town, spoke admiringly about Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.
He described how she not only attended the formal opening of the
massive event, but even attended several of the conference
This, he said with something like wonder in his voice, was a
thing "which I've never known a politician to do before".
But Madlala-Routledge is no ordinary politician, as her
unprecedented challenge to her own government's stance on HIV/Aids has shown.
Born on the Natal South Coast in 1952, she attended the Inanda
Seminary, a girls' high school in Durban, before going on to
register for medicine at the University of Natal.
However she was excluded over her involvement in politics, which
ended her dream of becoming a doctor.
Instead, she went to the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern
Cape, where she did a social science degree, majoring in philosophy and sociology.
She followed this with diplomas in adult education and medical
She worked for six years in a medical lab before resigning to
become a full-time organiser for the United Democratic
Front-aligned Natal Organisation of Women (NOW), a move that earned her three spells in detention, including an entire year in solitary confinement.
She had joined the then-banned African National Congress in
1979, and five years later also became a member of the SA Communist Party, where she rose to become a central committee member.
When the ANC swept to power in South Africa's first non-racial
general election, Madlala-Routledge became an MP for the party, and
used her position to continue her fight for women's rights.
She chaired the multi-party Parliamentary Women's Group, and
also headed the ANC parliamentary women's caucus.
She was a co-editor of South Africa's official country report
for the United Nations' World Conference on Women held in Beijing
in 1995 -- the same year that she underwent a six month bout of
chemotherapy for breast cancer.
However it was in June 1999, when President Thabo Mbeki named
her as deputy minster of defence, that she really emerged into the
The appointment of a black woman to a post so close to the heart
of a traditionally macho establishment was in itself enough to draw
But what really raised eyebrows was the fact that Madlala
-Routledge was -- and still is -- a Quaker and a committed
Her husband, Jeremy Routledge, was at the time director of Cape
Town's Quaker Peace Center.
"A Quaker serving within the military establishment does not
settle easily with many Friends," noted a fellow Quaker.
Madlala-Routledge's vision for the job, however, was one that
included transforming the military culture, confronting the arms
industry, and promoting conflict resolution in the region.
"Many Quakers are very active in bringing about social justice
and have been throughout history," she told questioning
"I have never met a Quaker who thought that sitting and
meditating would solve the world's problems."
In April 2004, she was appointed deputy minister of health, a
job to which she brought all the drive and commitment she had shown in her previous roles.
During an unannounced tour of State HIV/Aids facilities in
KwaZulu-Natal, she interrupted a staffer's litany of administrative
problems to say: "Sometimes I wish I was back in the army. There,
people work according to orders. I could draft an order tonight and
send it to you tomorrow."
One of the areas delegated to her by Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang was chronic illnesses, which Madlala-Routledge decided included HIV/Aids.
She began having low-profile meetings with groups such as the
Treatment Action Campaign, which had been calling for
Tshabalala-Msimang's removal from office.
While the minister continued to punt garlic, beetroot and lemon
juice, Madlala-Routledge made it her priority to increase the
number of people who had access to antiretoriviral treatment.
Spurred by the Aids deaths of two of her own cousins, she
complained that those already receiving treatment were a "drop in
the ocean" compared to the need, and had no qualms about
criticising Tshabalala-Msimang's ally, controversial German vitamin
salesman Matthias Rath.
Resisting attempts by Tshabalala-Msimang to gag her, she found
an ally in Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who had also
been a leader of NOW in the apartheid years.
Mlambo-Ngcuka took over from the discredited Jacob Zuma as head
of the SA National Aids Council, and was also appointed to lead a
newly-formed Cabinet-level committee on HIV/Aids.
And when Tshabalala-Msimang was hospitalised in early October
with a lung infection, Madlala-Routledge took the bit in her teeth.
At the beginning of November, in what was hailed as a sea change
in South Africa's stance on the disease, she publicly saluted TAC
chairman Zackie Achmat for leading the campaign for treatment.
She hit out at senior members of government "including MECs and
ministers" who promoted untested HIV/Aids remedies.
She also acknowledged that South Africa had been "severely
embarrassed" by criticism of its beetroot and garlic stand at the
International Aids Conference in Toronto earlier in the year.
Towards the end of the month, she became the highest-ranking ANC
member of government ever to publicly take an HIV test, which she
did with her husband and the younger of her two sons at a rural
clinic in KwaZulu-Natal.
And last week she took on Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang directly,
accusing them of being party to "confusing messages [about HIV/Aids treatment] coming from the very top".
Madlala-Routledge said in a recent interview that the values she
tried to live by were "honesty, truth, integrity, commitment and
It remains to be seen whether those qualities will be enough to
ensure her political survival.
CAPE TOWN 12 December 2006 Sapa
I DID NOT CALL ON MBEKI TO TAKE AIDS TEST: MADLALA-ROUTLEDGE
Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge says she has
not called on President Thabo Mbeki to set a leadership example and take an Aids test.
"Although I encourage people to test so that they know their HIV
status, I did not, as a matter of fact, call upon the president to
conduct a public test as claimed by the reports," she said in a
statement on Tuesday.
Madlala-Routledge was referring to media reports at the weekend
claiming she had called on Mbeki to take such a test. The reports
followed an interview she had with a British newspaper.
"To me, it is logical that people in the leadership see the need
to do this [take an HIV test]," she reportedly said at the time.
Her call has drawn wide praise from opposition parties and
non-governmental organisations in South Africa.
On Tuesday, Madlala-Routledge said she hoped her latest
statement would "clarify the matter".
She said in the interview with the British newspaper, the
journalist had asked her if she thought it helped if people in
leadership positions were tested, "to which I responded in the
This had been in response to her taking a public HIV test as
part of a Sunday Times campaign for South Africans to get tested.
"The main point I was making was to unite all South Africans
behind this important campaign for testing, which forms part of the
National Strategic Plan on HIV and Aids and STIs [sexually
transmitted infections] for South Africa, and the Comprehensive
Plan on HIV Management, Care and Treatment, adopted by Cabinet in December 2003.
"I wish to reiterate my commitment to the policy framework as
agreed by Cabinet to ensure that the whole of government
communicate a single, clear and consistent message on HIV and
AIDS," she said.
Reacting to Madlala-Routledge's announcement, the Democratic
Alliance later on Tuesday said it was deeply disappointing the
deputy minister "has been persuaded to 'clarify' reports that she
had called on the president to take a public Aids test".
However, she appeared to have stuck to her guns on her main
point -- that the government had so far failed to handle the Aids
epidemic appropriately, DA health spokesman Gareth Morgan said in a statement.
"Her stubbornness in resisting what was likely to have been
considerable pressure to back down completely must be praised.
"However, her back-down on the question of a public Aids test
for the president indicates that President Mbeki is still
steadfastly refusing to play a constructive leadership role in the
Aids prevention campaign."
Morgan said whether Madlala-Routledge did or did not say to the
journalist concerned that the president himself should take a
public Aids test, the fact remained Mbeki was continuing to be a
brake on the Aids prevention programme.
"Because he still refuses to acknowledge that the disease is a
major crisis for South Africa," he said.