- Popular DJ Khabzela of Jo'burg YFM Radio bravely has come out to disclose his HIV status and is hailed by the majority of South Africans for giving the disease a face / voice. Conservative elements of the press however wish the star had kept his secret to himself and claim that "traditional values" are the only answer to South Africa's AIDS pandemic.
The radio idol of many Jo'burg residents - DJ Khabzela, or Fana Khaba, as his real name is - announced on live radio that he was "getting sicker and sicker" due to AIDS, a disease that has infected almost a quarter of South Africa's population, but that nobody really wants to speak about. The dj encouraged listeners to be HIV tested and speak openly about their HIV status.
Such a degree of openness by a prominent has almost no parallel in South Africa, where most HIV infected keep their disease secret, often even for their wives or husbands. The social stigma is close to total. DJ Khabzela's thus took South Africans by surprise.
Reactions were bound to be strong. YFM listeners and visitors to the YFM website immediately expressed their support and sympathy with the dj, who is now too sick to work full time at the radio station. Many praised him for becoming a role model to all the HIV victims of the country.
But also negative reactions were immediately heard. The conservative weekly 'Saturday Star' in an editorial suggested that DJ Khabzela "himself did not believe in what he was preaching," adding that "the clarion call to destigmatise the disease through public shows is chic, but unfortunately seems to be ineffective." It concludes with a call to "reintroduce traditional values in our societies."
These reactions from South Africa's conservative halls today made the country's main trade union, Cosatu, protest loudly. In a statement, Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven "strongly condemns the sensational way in which Khabzela's announcement was reported and analysed by the 'Saturday Star'." The syndicalist holds the weekly's coverage "will have helped to reinforce tendencies to stigmatise those with HIV/Aids."
- Such an approach to HIV/Aids undermines the work which has been done by people like Khabzela to remove the fears and prejudices which surround this disease, Mr Craven says. "The editorial tries to resurrect the discredited idea that people living with HIV/Aids are to be condemned for lacking what it calls 'an ethos of good conduct and discipline', falsely implying that their status is the result of their own bad conduct and indiscipline."
The Cosatu spokesman goes on claiming that such statements "will discourage the kind of brave openness displayed by Khabzela and make people more reluctant to be tested and disclose their status. It could thus weaken the drive for a national prevention and treatment plan, which can start to reverse the relentless advance of this deadly epidemic."
The national trade union further welcomed "the brave decision" of DJ Khabzela to disclose his HIV status. He was "setting a fine example to others to be frank and open about their HIV condition. His honesty will help to remove the fear of others living with HIV that they will be condemned and stigmatised if they are open about their condition," Cosatu says.
DJ Khabzela himself is not open for any comments to the press, allegedly due to his health condition. The dj however seems to have sparked off an important debate in South Africa concerning the strong stigma that surrounds HIV and AIDS in the country.
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