Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
On the 30th of April 2004, my family and I buried my son, Prince Nelisuzulu Benedict Buthelezi. He died six days earlier at the King George V Hospital in Durban. As I stood at his funeral, I knew that I could not maintain the usual silence that accompanied a death from Aids. Ten years ago, no one spoke about HIV/Aids except as a depersonalized disease that many anonymous people were struggling with.
As a political leader and a traditional leader, I knew that I needed to break the taboo. How would we win this battle, unless we were willing to talk about it? I therefore announced at the funeral of my son that Prince Nelisuzulu had succumbed to his long fight with HIV/Aids.
Just three months later, on the 5th of August 2004, my daughter Princess Mandisi Sibukakonke Buthelezi lost her battle too, and died of HIV/Aids. Again, I was honest and lifted the veil on this anonymous disease, giving it a face; the face of my daughter. The following year, on the 6th of January 2005, former President Nelson Mandela lost his son, Makgatho Mandela, to HIV/Aids, and found the courage to speak up about what he called “an ordinary disease”. The silence was broken. At last we were talking about HIV/Aids in a language that everyone could understand.
Mandela and I were not the first to lose children, and we would not be the last.
But I believe that breaking the taboo ultimately saved lives, and certainly made the lives of those suffering with this disease a little easier. My intention was to wage a national war of HIV/Aids, which is what we did. But it was also to see families healed.
At that time, families were torn apart by HIV/Aids, with some believing that sharing eating utensils with their HIV positive child might get them infected. Some believed Aids was a form of righteous punishment for homosexuality, and brought shame to a family. Those suffering were often spurned, vilified or abandoned. There was a tremendous amount of fear, anger, contempt and confusion within families coming to terms with HIV/Aids.
I knew, from personal experience, that anyone diagnosed with HIV needs their family’s support more than ever. This is an ordinary disease, and like any ordinary disease it is hard to accept and process. It requires lifestyle adjustments and may ultimately necessitate specialised care. We may want to treat HIV/Aids as mundane, because millions of South Africans have been affected by it. But for the individual, it is a difficult journey and one on which the love and support of family is essential.
On Sunday, 1 December South Africa will commemorate World Aids Day. This year, Government’s message will be “Get wise. Get tested. Get circumcised.” This marks the launch of Government’s campaign for voluntary male medical circumcision.
According to the World Health Organisation, male medical circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men by around 60%. It is therefore appropriate that this becomes part of our programme to fight HIV/Aids.
But the emphasis in this fight should never be taken off the advocacy of faithfulness, abstinence and the use of condoms. Abstinence is the only absolute guarantee against HIV/Aids for both men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Faithfulness requires a sustained commitment from both partners.
Condoms, used with every sexual encounter, protect both men and women.
These are the messages we will hear on 1 December together with messages of hope based on successes we have experienced in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and increasing access to anti-retrovirals.
But something else will happen on 1 December that is antithetical to our fight against HIV/Aids and goes against the spirit of “16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children” which started this week.
On 1 December 2013, Top TV, under its new name, StarSat, will launch three hard-core pornographic channels. In 2011 and 2012, Top TV petitioned ICASA, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, to air pornographic channels as part of a plan to rescue the financially failing business. The rescue plan was proposed by Chinese investors.
Following deliberations and extensive public consultation, ICASA refused permission, saying that “the right of women to equality and human dignity overrides Top TV’s right to freedom of expression”. ICASA expressed its belief that “the consumption of pornography” is a “contributing factor… to the normalisation of violence against women in South Africa”.
ICASA explained that pornography is not sexually explicit material per se, but is a “subset of sexually explicit material which is objectionable because it harms women and children.” Pornography endorses the subordination of women and is “a systematic practice of sexual discrimination that violates women’s right to equality and human dignity”. In referring to South Africa’s struggle with one of the world’s highest levels of violence against women, ICASA referred specifically to the “16 Days of Activism” campaign.
ICASA also noted, as a reason for its refusal, that Top TV had misconstrued “serious stakeholder engagement on constitutional and legal grounds” as objections on “moral or religious grounds”, which Top TV did not consider serious or relevant.
Throughout all this, Top TV realised that it had damaged its reputation and chose to rebrand under the name StarSat. Nevertheless, it quietly kept petitioning to air the pornographic channels and, bizarrely, ICASA suddenly made an about-turn.
ICASA now echoes StarSat’s own argument; the one which ICASA not only rejected before, but on which it based its refusal of permission. That argument is that representations during the public consultation process were “based on moral grounds”.
This begs the question whether morality has any significance in decision-making in South Africa. Does morality have no place in our society?
When Top TV first approached ICASA, COSATU was vocal in opposing the application. One would assume their voice had some clout, considering that Kopano Ke Matla is a shareholder of Top TV, and Kopano Ke Matla is the investment arm of COSATU. But where does COSATU stand now? Has it also made a quiet about-turn, rejecting morality as relevant?
Whoever stands to benefit, financial gain has clearly trumped morality, human dignity, the rights of women and our fight against both sexual violence and HIV/Aids.
I stand, unapologetically, for morality and faith. If we are to heal our nation, we need to restore and value these principles.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP