Death of Mbeki's spokesman sparks Aids rumours

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The Independent Online

The African National Congress is expected to come under pressure today to make a clear statement about the cause of the death of Parks Mankahlana, spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki and a controversial figure in South Africa's Aids debate.

The African National Congress is expected to come under pressure today to make a clear statement about the cause of the death of Parks Mankahlana, spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki and a controversial figure in South Africa's Aids debate.

Mr Mankahlana, 36, died yesterday after going on extended sick leave in July, leaving his job at the height of the controversy over Mr Mbeki's questioning of whether the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, leads to Aids. He had served Nelson Mandela after the 1994 elections and became Mr Mbeki's spokesman last year.

Mr Mankahlana wrote a number of articles in his own right about Aids and was criticised for saying that a declaration signed by 5,000 scientists stating that HIV causes Aids belonged "in the trash".

An ANC spokesman, Nat Serache, refused to enter into speculation that Mr Mankahlana might have died from an Aids-related illness. He said that if a person had died from "TB or pneumonia or whatever", disclosure had been a matter resting between them and their doctor.

However, because of Mr Mankahlana's prominence in the Aids debate and the fact that about 4.5 million South Africans are thought to be HIV positive, there is expected to be pressure today for a clarification on his cause of death.

A former president of the ANC youth league, Mr Mankahlana was praised by the party yesterday as "an outstanding hero" who was committed to "defending the revolution and his principles". Mr Mbeki praised his "immense contribution to the struggle for freedom".

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