If you were cognizant of the news in the mid-nineties, you probably remember the push-pull velocity of the Clinton administration’s decisions regarding Nelson Mandela’s AIDS Plan. The plan, which drastically changed the AIDS agenda in South Africa, is highlighted in the recent Huffington Post Gay Voices article entitled How Rachel Maddow Helped Force Bill Clinton’s Support For Mandela’s AIDS Plan: “After Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, then-President Clinton pressured the nation to adopt trade policies that benefitted U.S. corporations while restricting South African access to drugs treating HIV and AIDS. In the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies were charging roughly $12,000 a year for lifesaving AIDS drugs in Mandela’s country. For a nation with an average income of $2,600 a year, where roughly one-fifth of the population was HIV-positive, the drug prices were untenable.”
Mandela signed a legendary law in 1997 that would allow his administration in South Africa to do market research and price-shop for cheaper AIDS drugs that would drastically reduce overhead costs and provide affordable pharmaceuticals to the affected communities. However, because the United States operates under a model in which pharmaceutical companies are given loose-leash reign over pricing and distribution, many American drug corporations were furious over Mandela’s law. Claiming that it violated World Trade Organization treaties, the Clinton administration pressured Mandela to drop the law, and begun enforcing punishment on South Africa by rescinding trade benefits, much like the US trade embargo placed on Cuba in 1959. The claims that Mandela violated WTO treaties was later discredited.
Zach Carter at the Huffington Post states this: “AIDS protesters at the activist group ACT UP waded into the fight, focusing on Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Gore, as co-chair of the U.S.- South Africa Binational Commission, wielded great power over trade and drug policy. A dozen ACT UP protesters disrupted Gore’s 2000 campaign kickoff in his hometown of Carthage, Tenn., unveiling banners reading Gore’s Greed Kills: AIDS Drugs For Africa.” ACT UP were leaked documents that suggested that the U.S. government had pressured South Africa to drop Mandela’s AIDS bill, and took said documents to Gore’s hometown of Carthage, Tennessee, where they were met with uproarious media attention.
With the evidence against Al Gore, ACT UP activists decided to take the fight to New Hampshire, and apparently a young Rachel Maddow was in the van that went along with. Maddow, who was not available for commentary during the writing of Zach Carter’s story, was a Rhodes Scholar at the time, and has since become a famous American political figurehead, well-touted for her fierce political prowess, and has, to date, the most successful show ever launched by MSNBC. Clearly, her political roots and sense of global citizenship run deep, and her support of Mandela and South Africa’s AIDS agenda is commendable.
Clinton later worked with Mandela to backtrack the harmful actions committed in the mid-nineties. Carter writes: “Clinton would eventually atone as a philanthropist. At Mandela’s recommendation, Clinton started a major international AIDS relief program — the Clinton Health Access Initiative — that made access to generic drugs a primary component of its platform. The charity has been a smashing success and is credited with saving millions of lives.”
All over the Internet, politicians, activists, freedom fighters, poets, painters, teachers, and mothers alike are commemorating Mandela’s life-long struggles against institutionalized racism, poverty, inequality, and the prison industrial complex. Even Rush Limbaugh, who largely acts as a horrifically offensive bag of hot air, lauded Mandela’s struggles and efforts on his show late last week, quoting Mandela’s words about resentment: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it’ll kill your enemies”.
It is without doubt that I write about the world’s great loss and sorrow as Nelson Mandela passes through this world and into another realm—perhaps a kinder, perhaps a quieter, perhaps a void—but one thing is for certain: Mandela will always be a man who used his words to breathe life into his cause: “I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary, there is no distraction from these haunting questions.”
“But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one’s spirits strong even when one’s body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty.”
Rest in Power, Nelson Mandela.