By Prince Charles
On the 13th of June 2019 ACTIVATE! Change Drivers partnered with the German Development Bank, Youth against AIDS, and the National Department of Health to coordinate the HIV Prevention for Youth Satellite Session on the sidelines of the ninth South African Aids Conference held at the Durban ICC. A number of stakeholders which included UNAIDS, LoveLife, UNFPA, Bumbi’NGOMSO and the Soul City Institute joined over one hundred young people to fill Durban ICC’s Hall 2 to capacity, a visibly elated Rammolotsi Sethoane who coordinates ACTIVATE’s health sector added that the satellite session sought to explore the role youth play in responding meaningfully and innovatively to the challenge of HIV in South Africa. Sothoane added:
“The ACTIVATE! network’s strategy of trying to respond to the interminable challenges affecting society; one such challenge being the high HIV prevalence rate among youth, is to constantly build the capacity of youth to be leaders for public innovation. The important role Activators have played at the 9th SA AIDS Conference is primarily informed by this imperative.”
The session was kickstarted by KFW’s public health specialist Lwazi Mdlopane who was followed by the German embassy’s Deputy head of cooperation Diana Stoetler who reiterated the German government’s commitment towards assisting South Africa with what she termed an ‘implementation gap’, this is the same gap that was alluded to by both health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and Deputy President Mr David Mabuza in his closing remarks to the conference. A robust panel discussion facilitated by ACTIVATOR and UNFPA advisor Lerato Morulane began with panellists from the Health Department’s youth program manager Gertude Matshimane, United Nation Aids South Africa’s country Direcctor Mbulawa Mugabe, ACTIVATE’s Tebogo Suping and Bumbi’NGOMSO’s Athenkosi Sopitshi.
It was however Ms Gertrude Matshimane who fired the first salvo by urging young people to mobilise and organise themselves as that makes government interventions easier to reach them, that comment solicited massive criticism from young people particularly from the eThekwini Metro who argued that they’ve been forever organised but due to government inefficiency and lack of political will no interventions were reaching them. Dr Mkhize jumped to defend government’s intervention on HIV by arguing it was the youth who were still refusing to use condoms and constantly looking for loopholes to justify not using them; “first they said condoms were too basic, then they were too oily, then they were not flavoured, now they hate the banana flavour, young people lack accountability”. It took KFW’s Lwazi Mdlopane’s intervention to diffuse a tense discussion “we perhaps need to be solution driven when we are engaging government as young people, they are right here now advise them, tell them what they can do better”. Tebogo Suping challenged young people to change their outlook or else the youth demographic as we know it will cease to exist.
Activators raised some serious oversight and lack of sensitivity issues in the conversation around HIV/Aids in South Africa, they decried the fact that HIV is predominantly viewed as a sexual virus yet some didn’t contract it that way and were born with it. Youth Against Aids CEO Daniel Nagel unveiled an innovative solution by launching a trendy condom dispenser which his organisation is piloting to around 90 TVET colleges across the country. The dispenser resembles a vending machine and young people at TVET colleges will be able to access branded condoms for free by just pushing a button, this in order to limit the stigma and sometimes awkward stares which society gives those purchasing condoms at retail centres and local shops.