Former President Nelson Mandela announced Thursday that his eldest son had died of AIDS-related complications, and he said the only way to fight the disease’s stigma was to speak openly about it.
Makgatho Mandela, who was the ex-president’s only surviving son, was admitted to Linksfield Park Clinic last month. He died Thursday at age 54.
“Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way of making it appear to be a normal illness, just like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of HIV,” Mandela said at a news conference at his home.
Mandela’s position contrasts with that of President Thabo Mbeki, who has denied knowing anyone who died of the disease. Mandela declined to comment on Mbeki’s views.
Mbeki was among the many visitors who came to offer condolences Thursday.
More than 5 million of South Africa’s 45 million people are infected with HIV. An estimated 600 die of AIDS-related complications every day.
Mbeki’s government has been criticized for its response to the crisis, which critics call sluggish, and for courting dissident theorists who question the cause of AIDS. Until this year, the government refused to provide life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs through the public health system, citing concerns about their safety and cost.
Mandela, who was a frequent visitor at his son’s bedside, was surrounded Thursday by somber relatives.