South Africa: Speaker's Appeal on HIV Strikes Emotional Chord
January 23, 2009
Ahead of a two-day HIV/AIDS training seminar for lawmakers from eastern and southern Africa, a top South African Parliament member urged her colleagues to tackle HIV/AIDS stigma directly.
"The stigma that we all think we have addressed is still out there," said National Assembly Speaker Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. "I know, especially in our African circles, we always try to hide [HIV/AIDS], and talk about pneumonia, talk about what have you. But denying the fact that this is alive and with us, we are saying to people, 'you may continue not looking after your health.'"
"Let us not be shy about it. It is not a sin. It goes to any family," Mahlangu-Nkabinde continued. "We have priests, we have politicians, we have judges, we have so many people [affected by AIDS]."
The speaker praised Joyce Masilo, chairperson of South Africa's National Council of Provinces select committee on social services, for acknowledging that her son recently died of AIDS. "I am very proud of the lady whose son we will be burying this weekend," said Mahlangu-Nkabinde. "She's a leading figure, and she told the community when people gathered at her place that 'my son died from AIDS.'"
To date, very few public figures in the country have discussed the epidemic's impact on their families. South Africa has the world's largest HIV/AIDS caseload, with approximately 5.7 million people infected.
Veteran AIDS activist Zackie Achmat said the speaker's comments on Wednesday nearly brought him to tears. "It's the first time since 1999 that I've heard such strong and clear direction from our Parliament," said Achmat, founder of Treatment Action Campaign.
Business Day (South Africa)
01.21.2009; Tamar Kahn