The youth of South Africa 20 is missing in action, it needs to rise up and address the issues faced by society, particularly the HIV pandemic.
These were the sentiments expressed by deputy president David Mabuza during his keynote address at the official World Aids Day event held at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.
“The voice of young people has been absent for a long time in the challenges that we are facing as a country. Every generation has got its own mission, I can see today that your mission is to fight the scourge of HIV/Aids, drug abuse and to fight all the ills that are attacking young people,” he said.
Mabuza added that young people are the most affected by HIV/Aids and that the youth are the only ones who can liberate themselves from the epidemic by working hand-in-hand with government.
“I want you to be part of the SA National Aids Council Trust (Sanac). I want you to be part of our Aids structures in provinces. I want the voices of young people to be heard. You represent the future, you represent tomorrow. If we want tomorrow to be better, we must open space for our young people to participate,” he said.
Mabuza, who is acting president while President Cyril Ramaphosa attends as G20 summit in Argentina, attended the commemorations marking the 30th anniversary of World Aids Day.
The event is observed each year on December 1 and this year’s event took place under the theme: “Cheka impilo, know your status,” a call for HIV testing programmes to be expanded and for novel, innovative approaches to HIV testing to be developed.
Mabuza, who is also the chairperson of Sanac, emphasised the importance of having an empowered, healthy and successful South African youth that will face the challenges of tomorrow.
With the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign under way, Mabuza called on boys and men to respect women and to stop objectifying them.
“Women abuse and abuse against young girls is on the rise. I call upon our parents to socialise young boys to respect our young girls. Women need to be protected, valued and supported,” he said.
Motivational speaker and author Sibulele Sibaca shared a story of how she found out at the age of 16 that her parents had died of Aids. She said society is also responsible for the stigma placed around young people’s need for safe sex.
“Young people need spaces and an environment where they can open up about their issues. Young girls specifically are contracting HIV because of the relationships they are in, where they are sometimes unable to negotiate the use of a condom,” said Sibaca.
Speaking to City Press, she added: “Girls feel they are judged every time they go to a clinic to get condoms. The minds of society need to change and girls need to feel comfortable with who they are.”
Mabuza, reiterated this sentiment as he told those in attendance that “stigma and ignorance prevent people from adhering to treatment. The time is always now to have courage to go and test and to live a responsible and productive life whether one is negative or living with HIV”.
Protect the rights of people with HIV/Aids
Meanwhile, at a separate event, stigmatisation and discrimination against people living with HIV/Aids was condemned as Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize addressed a crowd in Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The human rights of people living with HIV/Aids need to be protected and respected,” Mkhize said.
“The majority of people are still poor and are therefore not in a bargaining position with regard to sexual choices. Some live under constant abuse and get the disease through sexual violation and abuse.”
Mkhize urged South Africans to get tested and know their status.
“Madiba urged the nation to give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it. He said the only way to make it a normal illness was always to come out and declare openly that someone died because of HIV/Aids and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary,” he said.
Sanac chief executive Sandile Buthelezi told City Press that his organisation intends to work closely with the youth of South Africa in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“Most new infections happen to young girls between the ages of 15 and 24. For the event in Soweto today, we brought together 200 young people who prepared a declaration which they presented to the acting president.
“Our main goal as Sanac is to set up something sustainable that will be run by the youth as we work together with them. The youth will be in charge of prevention. There’s nothing about them without them,” he said.
The executive director of the Global Fund, Peter Sands, shone the spotlight on South Africa as he spoke to the crowd about HIV/Aids statistics in the country.
“South Africa has more than 7.4 million people living with HIV. The country has one of the largest HIV epidemics among young women and girls. Compared with boys of the same age, young women are disproportionally affected, much more vulnerable in some places, probably four times as vulnerable as young boys of the same age,” he said.
Global Fund is an international financing organisation that aims to prevent and treat diseases like HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
Sands explained that this was a consequence of the inequalities of gender, educational disadvantages and economic disempowerment.