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The two faces of Willie van Niekerk

It was too good to be true! After a long, hard battle by consumer organisations, women’s groups and doctors, the Health Department banned skin lightening creams. The new law said that skin lighteners could not be sold or made as from July 1, 1988.

But, just a couple of weeks before the poisonous creams were to be banned, the Minister of Health, Dr Willie van Niekerk, changed his mind. He said skin lighteners can now be sold until January 1991.

Van Niekerk said that, “due to certain legal, economic and health implications” he “deemed it necessary to grant the industry a fair phasing out period.”

How the hell can he say such a thing? How can he talk of being fair to the companies when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Black people have already suffered permanent skin damage because of these creams?

How the hell can he say he wants to be fair to the companies when the companies have already made hundreds of millions of rands from selling these creams? Each year the companies make about R80 million from skin lighteners!

What made Van Niekerk change his mind? Has he forgotten why he banned the creams in the first place? Has he forgotten what doctors have been telling him for years and years — that after about three months, the creams make the skin darker than before?

And not only darker! The creams leave hundreds of little lumps all over the skin wherever they are used. The dark patches and lumps do not go away!

It is said that Van Niekerk changed his mind after the companies went to see him with an “American expert.” How the hell can he listen to an American expert when our own skin doctors say that damage from skin lighteners is a South African problem?

We want to ask you two questions, Dr van Niekerk. Firstly, how many people will suffer permanent skin damage from skin lighteners in the next three years? One hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? Five hundred thousand?

And secondly, Dr van Niekerk, how do we know that you won’t change your mind again in 1991? What excuse will you have then?

But we must not only point a finger at Van Niekerk, the man who is supposed to look after the health of the people in this country! What about the people who have his ear and who he bends over backwards to help — the companies themselves.

After all these years and so much proof about the dangers of skin lighteners, the companies still say the creams are safe.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr Ian Ellis, general manager of Twins Pharmaceuticals, told a newspaper there is “no scientific evidence” that the creams his company sells cause permanent skin damage if people follow the instructions on the pack.

Ian Ellis, whose company makes most of the skin lighteners in this country, went on to threaten anybody who did not agree with him. He said the creams his company makes are “safe and effective” — and that if anybody said they were not, the companies may take “the necessary legal action.”

Okay, Mr Ellis! We accept your challenge! We believe that what you say is not correct! We say your skin lighteners are NOT safe and effective! We say the skin lighteners your company makes are harmful and dangerous to the people of this country!

So what do you say now, Mr Ellis? We look forward to hearing from you!

NEW WORDS consumer — people who buy goods or services phasing out period — doing away with something slowly permanent — lasting forever expert — somebody who knows all about something evidence — proof, reasons for believing something


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