The failure of South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki to respond to the problem of AIDS in his country, including his refusal to allow the import of the treatment drug AZT, is “at the core of our business problems and is a serious impediment to binational relations,” according to one South Africa expert.

Dan O’Flaherty, executive director of the U.S.-South Africa Business Council South Africa-U.S., spoke to members of the South African American Business Association (SAABA) in Atlanta on March 30. He outlined the country’s economic potential and its challenges.

Among the latter is the 13%-35% of the country’s population that is infected with HIV-AIDS.

Relations between South Africa and the U.S. have grown tense due to attempted interventions by the U.S. government and pharmaceutical companies to get AZT into the country, as well as offers of aid by the United Nations.

“Mbeki has gotten angry at the West and at pharmaceutical companies for putting him on the spot and telling him what to do, which is what he hates the most,” said Mr. O’Flaherty. “He has said there is no proof that AZT works, but the truth is that he cannot afford it.”

The erosion in binational relations comes unfortunately at a time when South Africa has managed to stabilize the economy with a projected 3% growth for 2000, said Mr. O’Flaherty, and when there are enormous opportunities for foreign investment.

South Africa has a developing information technology industry and is a popular place for outsourcing Website construction, he said. There is a need for infrastructure and housing development and the country has a robust chemical production sector. 

He added that tourism in that country is “vastly underdeveloped for the U.S.” due to a lack of lower priced vacation packages.

Mr. O’Flaherty’s organization is a legal advocate for U.S. companies located in South Africa and is the secretariat for the U.S.-South African Binational Commission, co-chaired by Mr. Mbeki and U.S. Vice President Al Gore.  Call  (202) 887-0278 or send an e-mail to

Contact Francois Botha, chairman of the executive board of SAABA in Atlanta at