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By Wangui Kanina

Written by: Staff

NAIROBI, May 10 (Reuters) - An apology by South Africa's former deputy president for having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman will not make up for the harm done to efforts to fight AIDS there, a top UN official said today.

''I don't think anything can compensate for the damage he has done,'' said Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Secretary General's Special envoy for AIDS in Africa.

Zuma, one of South Africa's most popular politicians, was on Monday acquitted of raping an HIV positive family friend.

He stunned observers and outraged AIDS activists during the trial when he said he took a shower after sex to minimise the risk of contracting HIV. He later apologised for having sex without a condom and said he would preach safe sex.

''The outlandish and unacceptable male behaviour, which he demonstrated through his testimony on HIV, were appallingly uninformed in a country that is wrestling with the highest number of infections in the world,'' Lewis told a news conference in Nairobi.

The trial judge slammed Zuma's behaviour as ''unacceptable'' for a man who had once led the country's anti-AIDS efforts.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world and the world's biggest HIV caseload with some 5 million people infected.

Lewis said Zuma's comments had highlighted the attitude of South Africa's government, which has been criticised for its handling of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

''The voice of the government in South Africa has been confused or confusing (on HIV/AIDS) ... the voice of Jacob Zuma made it more unpalatable,'' Lewis said.

President Thabo Mbeki's government has been criticised by groups who say it has downplayed both the AIDS crisis and the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs, the only treatment known to slow the course of the disease.

The government introduced a public ARV treatment programme in late 2003 but the national rollout has been slow and only slightly more than 40,000 people are enrolled.

Zuma, who still faces corruption charges, has said he will resume his duties at the ruling African National Congress Party.


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