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SOUTH AFRICA: Celebrities and AIDS

Photo: MNET
Tender Mavundla - a positive role model
durban, 2 April 2009 (PlusNews) - They formed an unlikely panel for an AIDS conference: a rugby player, a soccer player, a reality-show contestant, a comedian, a film producer, an actor and a singer.

Most admitted to being out of their comfort zone, but had accepted invitations to participate in the 4th South African AIDS Conference in Durban this week because they wanted to play a role in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The lively discussion, chaired by well-known AIDS activist Zackie Achmat, was about what that role should be.

Rugby player John Smit admitted that communicating messages about HIV and AIDS demanded sensitivity and an understanding of complex issues that presented a bigger challenge than some other popular celebrity causes. “It’s much easier to, say, switch off the lights to help climate change,” he said.

The media can be reluctant to delve into such issues but film maker Anant Singh, who produced ‘Yesterday’, one of the first locally-made films to deal with HIV and AIDS, said, “Sometimes we have to do things that we’re not sure are in our best interest commercially because we feel they’re the right thing to do.”

In response to criticisms from audience members about negative portrayals of HIV-positive people in local soap operas, actor Rapulana Seiphemo commented: “We don’t have influence over the story lines, we’re just hired.”

Celebrities who speak out about their HIV status can jeopardise their careers, said aspiring singer Tender Mavundla, who is open about being HIV positive. “The problem is, what you say affects your bank account; you risk losing your fans.”

Whether or not celebrities take an active role in the AIDS fight, most of the panellists agreed that they have a special responsibility because of their power to influence behaviour. “If you have multiple partners, it’s not cool,” said comedian Joey Rasdien, the voice behind the popular ‘Scrutinize’ HIV-awareness adverts on South African television. “I was promiscuous; I used to shag [sleep] around, but we have to change our own behaviour.”


Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Media - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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