Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.Except, in this case, religion wasn't to blame, it was a kind of weirdly diffuse but prickly anti-Western pro-Africanist ideology. This ideology - quite possibly, it seems to me, one outgrowth of Mbeki's painful emotional insecurity - predisposed Mbeki to reject science and logic precisely because he thought of it as "Western". And, perhaps more importantly, if the orthodox explanation for AIDS were correct, it would imply, Mbeki thought, that Africans were uniquely sexually voracious, for how else could you explain the fact that Africa has by far the highest incidence? All these worries are reflected in a newly released letter (almost certainly drafted by the president himself) that Mbeki's office sent to the then head of the Medical Research Council, William Makgoba in December 2000.
I'm not going to deconstruct Mbeki's letter in detail - I don't have the time or patience and, besides, it would an exercise in futility. But I will note that there just is no meaningful sense in which science is "Western". While science no doubt arose in the West (in Western Europe during the Age of Reason to be precise) that obviously doesn't mean it cannot be a universally good way of finding out what's true. And, to address Mbeki's other concern, Africans are not uniquely licentious, HIV is more common here because it arose on the continent possibly as far back as 1884 and thus became endemic. (Moreover, there is evidence that, due to the Black Plague of all things, people of European descent are fortuitously less prone to be infected (pdf) and, due to malaria of all things, people of African descent are fortuitously more prone to be infected).
Anyway, two breathtakingly silly quotes from Mbeki's letter if you can't stand reading the whole thing:
Among the socio-biological factors that have shaped our society over three and a half centuries are the western scientists who helped to create the psychological dependence that obliged Africans to depend on these western scientists for solutions to problems they were otherwise uniquely positioned to solve.
These are the people who created the ‘Eurocentric African university' which you sought to overthrow and replace with a truly African University.
It is they who created a "scientific" view of the African that made us the very essence of everything despicable in human society and behaviour.
What is said is that the questions the President is raising were answered by western scientists at least 15 years ago.
It is also said that the ‘dissidents' the President speaks to lost the scientific argument to other western scientists at least 15 years ago.
After this seemingly powerful argument, it is assumed and intended that our President should then admit the error of his ways with regard to the matter of HIV/AIDS and shut up!
All that is said is that Western science long made a ruling!
The question is then asked - what right does a non-scientist have, such as our President, to question matters that science in Britain, France, Portugal and the United States answered many years ago!
The real question however that those who oppose President Mbeki are asking is, what right does any African have to question the findings of western science, regardless of whether he or she is a scientist or not!