Sunday Standard has managed to get its hands on the copy of an immigration application form at the centre of a contentious claim in a new book titled “One Life at a Time: An American Doctor’s Memoir of AIDS in Botswana.”
The book was written by Dr. Daniel Baxter, an HIV/AIDS doctor who spent close to a decade in Botswana, having arrived in the early 2000s at the height of the epidemic. When we raised questions about the accuracy of what the book says about immigrant AIDS patients last week, we mostly relied on circumstantial evidence as well as the testimony of those familiar with the form. Now in possession of that form, we are able to confidently state that Dr. Baxter embellished his book with intentional falsehoods.
In an excerpt of the book that was published in Salon, a liberal US media outlet, Baxter laments the manner in which the Botswana government treated Zimbabwean immigrants suffering from the disease. Among those was Eunice, a “diminutive, withdrawn lady with rotting front teeth” and “coal-black skin” who was getting her HIV treatment at the Holy Cross Hospice in Gaborone. Eunice needed a residency permit so she could continue her HIV treatment in Botswana and brought immigration application forms to Baxter to fill out.
Baxter writes in the book of this episode: “Several questions dealt with her mental capacity, using quaint terminology held over from the British many decades previously: “Is the applicant an imbecile?,” “Is the applicant a moron?,” and “Is the applicant a cretin?” Probably somewhere in government statutes there was detailed description of what differentiated an imbecile, a moron, or a cretin, but I knew she was none of the above.”
The form he is referring to is a medical report which is provided for in terms of Section 4 (7) of the Immigration Act which stipulates requirements for those applying for a residence permit. Contrary to what Baxter writes, the form requires doctors to attest to the health of applicants by stating that they are “not suffering from any of the disabilities referred to in Note 1.” The latter itself refers to the following disabilities: “being an idiot, being an imbecile, being a feeble-minded person, being an epileptic, having had a previous attack of insanity, suffering from constitutional psychopathic inferiority and suffering from chronic alcoholism.” As evident, there is absolutely no mention of “moron” and “cretin” on the list.
Baxter writes: “Towards the bottom of Eunice’s form was a more serious question, highlighted in bold print and underlined: ‘Has the applicant ever tested positive for the HIV virus?’” He further claims that he had to either tick a box marked “Yes” or one marked “No.”
“I refocused on the form, hesitated briefly, and then ticked one of the two boxes. I signed the form with a flourish, adding my cell number and credentials as a Specialist Physician and Lecturer at the School of Medicine,” he adds.
Two points. Firstly, the form doesn’t now and has never required applicants to reveal their HIV status. It doesn’t now and never featured the boxes he refers to. Secondly, the only details required about the medical doctors filling out this form are signature, qualifications and address. While it would be reasonable to assume that Baxter volunteered more information, the elaborate falsehoods that he incorporates strongly suggest similar pattern of embellishment. Sunday Standard limited its review to the Salon excerpt but the embellishment raises the question of how widespread it is. The excerpt gives no indication of whether the names that are used in the book are fictitious or real. A local doctor says that if the names are real and the subjects didn’t give permission to have their HIV status publicly revealed, Baxter would have committed an offence.