Debunking Delusions

A book by Nathan Geffen

Nathan Geffen gives an insider’s account of how the TAC struggled to expose the falsehood of quacks like Dr Matthias Rath and Zeblon Gwala that lay claim to the lives of  many living with HIV; the story of how TAC member, Andile Madondile almost died because of the erroneous remedies that he took having been deceived into thinking they would help and ultimately the greatest of  the TAC’s obstacles, the infamous state-supported denialism of Thabo Mbeki and Manto Shabalala-Msimang.

Debunking Delusions Front Cover

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What we know about AIDS

Geffen describes not only the TAC’s response to the puzzling intransigence of government and the spellbinding nonsense of dissidents, but the thought, strategy and discussion that lay behind the organisation’s major decisions. The story of the TAC’s campaign is one of the great triumphs of citizen activism for social justice and human rights.

Between these covers you will find all the passion and intelligence Nathan Geffen devoted to the fight against quackery in South Africa. The Mbeki government’s march of folly is fully exposed here. One hopes that this book will serve, not only as a record, but as a lesson.” – Jonny Steinberg

An intellectually incisive, engagingly written history of a policy calamity – and the courageous activism it unleashed – that has important implications for our country’s understanding of its past, as well as its future course.” – Edwin Cameron


Extract One: Quackery everywhere
In this extract, Geffen conveys the ubiquity of untested medicines. While the advertising methods and hyperbolic claims of the sellers of these goods are often entertaining, the extract ends with a gruesome story showing the serious consequences of quackery.

Extract Two: TAC’s civil disobedience campaign
The TAC’s tactics have been widely acclaimed. In this extract Geffen describes the thinking and events behind TAC’s most controversial actions: its civil disobedience campaign in 2003.

Extract Three: The case against Matthias Rath
The TAC’s successful court case against the vitamin salesman Matthias Rath and the Minister of Health was widely publicised. Rath had claimed in adverts that vitamins alone could treat AIDS and that antiretrovirals (ARVs) were toxic. He was also testing his vitamins in unauthorised experiment in Khayelitsha on people with AIDS. TAC had tried in vain to persuade the state to take action against Rath and so the organisation went to court. This extract from Geffen’s book conveys the hard work that went into the case as well as some of the amusing shenanigans that took place.



Anso Thom – Health-e News Service (10 March 2010)
It is fitting that one of the sharpest minds and committed leaders of South Africa’s illustrious AIDS activist movement has documented not only the atrocities perpetuated by the Mbeki-Manto reign, but also the evolution of one of the greatest civil society activist movements in our country’s history.
Nathan Geffen has literally given his blood, sweat and tears to the cause. Journalists and those who have followed the battle between the Treatment Action Campaign and our former denialist Government interacted with Geffen on almost a daily basis and his dedication and absolute belief in what he was doing never wavered… (read more)

Maureen Isaacson – Sunday Independent (4 April 2010)
Aaron Motsoaledi, the Health Minister; said last week that a “revolution” would unfold this month in South Africa’s response to HIV and Aids as the largest-ever testing and counselling campaign kicked off.
Amid the applause this received, Nathan Geffen’s new book, Debunking Delusion, offers ample reason for us to celebrate the efforts of the health minister and the government to “take the bull by the horns”, as Motsoaledi told a press briefing…

Eusebius McKaiser – Sunday Independent (9 May 2010)
Nathan Geffen”s admirably balanced and meticulously crafted Debunking Delusions; The inside story of the Treatment Action Campaign is a proverbial page turner.
The book is a permanent public record of our country”s shameful recent history of state-sponsored Aids denialism, and highlights the proliferation of quack remedies for HIV and Aids.
You walk away with a palpable sense that we ought, in Mandela-speak, “never again” to allow a South African government to get away with callous disregard for evidence-informed health policy interventions in the face of a public health challenge… (read more)

Christopher Merrett – WITNESS (23 June 2010)
What is striking about this book is the extent to which it reflects the best and the worst of the old and new South Africas. Nathan Geffen describes how the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) courageously carried on the tradition of civic grassroots struggle that grew up under apartheid. In a chilling rerun of National Party rule, he recounts state-sponsored lawlessness; the government indulged Matthias Rath’s unauthorised medical trials and untested claims about the medicinal power of his vitamins…