Civil Society Outrage Over the Dismissal of the Deputy Minister of Health

The JCSMF which represents and is supported by over 20 civil society, health and research institutions and organisations in South Africa strongly condemn the dismissal of Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from her position as Deputy Minister of Health.

At the 10th JCSMF meeting held on the eve of the 3rd SA AIDS Conference in June 2007, the former Deputy Minister of Health, agreed to open the meeting and speak about the role of partnerships in keeping the National Strategic Plan (NSP) alive. To date, she has been the only high ranking official in the national department of health to have agreed to attend and address such a meeting of civil society, health and research organisations. She has always been available to support efforts to contain the epidemic. This is characteristic of her tenure at the National Department of Health where often she has been one of very few health officials to act in a transparent, approachable, open and accountable manner.

In her address to the JCSMF, Ms Madlala-Routledge spoke about ensuring that partnerships are created to achieve the important targets that are set out in the NSP. She stated:

“Like you I am encouraged that the NSP sets ambitious prevention, care and treatment targets and that it makes important commitments to processes that include much needed policy, human rights and law reform. But, like you – now that the paper work is done – I want to ensure that the inclusiveness, the commitments and the implementation continues and commences. The NSP itself states that its key guiding principles include supportive leadership and effective partnerships. It specifically states that all sectors of government and all stakeholders of civil society shall be involved in the AIDS response. It therefore opens the way for much needed engagement with all sectors in our society.”

Contrary to the statements from the Presidency, she has been a team player – she has done so by earning the respect of leading health academics, researchers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, health care workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and other users of the public health sector. Unlike other officials in the Department of Health, she has described situations how she perceives them to be and not brush matters of life and death under the carpet of political expediency. Her role was not to score political points. She knew no fear when she listened to protestors or patients in Khayelitsha or elsewhere. Over the years, she has shown respect for the work that civil society and all people living with HIV/AIDS are doing to prevent new infections and to treat existing infections. She has bravely spoken truth to power by challenging HIV/AIDS denialism, supporting evidence based interventions, publicly testing for HIV, engaging fully with civil society, and condemning confusing and ambiguous messaging on HIV/AIDS. She has rightly put the issue of our failing health crisis firmly before the nation, when many other health professionals are afraid of doing the same for the real fear of losing their job too.

We believe that her dismissal, despite the high esteem with which she is held by a wide cross-section of health care workers, community based organisations and other civil society players, is a major setback to the development of a unified national response to HIV/AIDS, so crucial to the effective implementation of the NSP. Instead it will fuel a climate of fear amongst people working in the public health sector and prevent them from speaking up about HIV/AIDS and the health crisis we face as a country. This is not the type of society we want to live in nor is it the one we all fought for.

The JCSMF will therefore support on going international and regional petitions of protest against her dismissal.

The founding members of the JCSMF endorse this statement:

  • AIDS Law Project
  • Health Systems Trust
  • Centre for Health Policy
  • Institute for Democracy in South Africa
  • Open Democracy Advice Centre
  • Treatment Action Campaign
  • UCT School of Public Health & Family Medicine
  • Public Service Accountability Monitor
  • Médecins Sans Frontières.

This statement is also endorsed by: 

  • The AIDS Consortium
  • Wits Pediatric HIV Clinics (WPHC)
  • Southern African HIV/AIDS Clinician Society (SAHCS)
  • School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape
  • People’s Health Movement
  • Positive Women Network
  • Sonke Gender Justice


For more information, please contact:

  • Fatima Hassan (2000ALP) 083 279 9962
  • Professor Helen Schneider (2000CHP) 083 275 0277
  • Professor David Saunders (2000PHM) 082 202 3316