Getting to Zero: Commemorating World Aids Day 2014

Zandile Simelane recites a poem on her experiences after being diagnosed as HIV-positive five years ago (Dept of State)
Wandile Mavuso | Staff writer

Getting to Zero: Focus, Partner and Achieve towards an AIDS-free Generation was the theme of this year’s World Aids Day commemoration at the United States Embassy in Pretoria on December 2.

Guest speakers included South African HIV activists Jacob and Virginia Jabari; a young woman living with HIV, Zandile Simelane; and Brothers4Life Ambassador and gender activist, actor Patrick Shai, who also spoke to the theme of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

The Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Catherine Hill-Herndon said she was delighted by the strides that South Africa has taken in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, since the inception of the US President’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“We applaud the partnership that the United States and South African government have had over the years in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” she said, adding that many lives have been saved since President George Bush announced the PEPFAR program in 2003, a lot of lives have been saved.

Role of Men as partners and community members

Jacob Jabari, an HIV activist, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, and father of three HIV-negative children, said it is high time men took the initiative and visited health institutions to find out about their status.

“Men should play an imperative role in curbing the spread of HIV both in South Africa and within the communities they live in.” Men should refrain from being bullies in their homes and start supporting their wives and children, especially those infected and affected by HIV.  (Jacob only started taking ARV medication in 2008.)

“Men should stop engaging in multiple sexual partners, they should use condoms and get tested regularly.” They should also stop hiding their feelings and communicate with their partners, and furthermore, stop discriminating against those that are living with HIV.

22 year old living with HIV

Zandile Simelane (22), who was diagnosed with HIV when she was 17 years old, recited a poem that she wrote about how she discovered that she was positive and the journey she has had to take thereafter.

She stated that she never knew that a prick on her finger one day when she was 17 years old would bring an enormous change for the rest of her life.

“At first I was terrified, I felt the world was closing in on me, after I was told I had tested positive at a tender age of 17. But here I am today five years later still growing stronger, and have actually disclosed my status to many.”

She added that she has been discriminated, stigmatized, but being the strong woman that she is, she has tweeted about her status, written posts on Facebook to raise an awareness to her peers that HIV/AIDS is real.

Being a Man about it

“Gender violence is the most dangerous practice to mankind, especially women and children”.  Those were the words of Patrick Shai, a renowned activist and gender violence activist.

Patrick was an abusive husband to his wife and three kids for years. He only discovered how brutal he was at a shoot of a drama film where he was acting as the abusive husband. He said he realized during the shoot that what he was acting was in fact what he was practicing at home.

Shai stressed that the South Africa cannot deal with HIV/AIDS until gender violence is rooted out. “We cannot deal with HIV/AIDS in isolation of gender based violence, because it is the root of the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

He also expressed his gratitude to PEPFAR for funding Brothers4Life, who a partner organization that is educating men against gender-based violence. “I have spoken in a number of communities and men have come out from the closet and admitted that they have been abusing their women and children for years un-aware, thanks to PEPFAR we are seeing the difference today.”