A high-profile South African politician, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said Saturday that AIDS had killed his daughter, his second child to die from AIDS-related illness this year. He sharply criticized the government's handling of the pandemic.

Buthelezi, head of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, is one of the few public figures to speak candidly about the disease.

"Tragically, Mandisi's untimely death should have been averted, for she also succumbed to the disease that is unmercifully mowing down many of our people," he said at his daughter's funeral in the village of Mahlabathini, in KwaZulu-Natal province.

"As you know, this is the second child that I have lost this year to this dreadful disease, the pandemic of AIDS. When will our nation and government comprehend that we have no greater calling and mission than to deal with this terrible emergency?"

Buthelezi's son died of AIDS complications in April at the age of 53. His daughter was 48.

South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, with estimates topping 5 million. But stigma still surrounds the illness, and political leaders have come under fire for failing to tackle the disease head-on.

Some of the sharpest public criticism has been directed at President Thabo Mbeki, whose government has been accused of dragging its feet over the distribution of AIDS drugs.

Mbeki has said he did not know anyone who has died of AIDS and at one time questioned the link between the illness and HIV, the virus that causes it.