In South Africa, sport and surfing is making Waves for Change in the fight against HIV

After a turbulent history, stigma still surrounds Aids in the Rainbow nation

Share
Related Topics

It was a weekend back in 2008 when I found myself at an NGO function somewhere in Khayelitsha township, the vast sprawl of shacks and low-grade concrete housing encamped on the edge of Cape Town’s CBD. I’d been in South Africa no more than a week. I’d come to work on the vineyards and learn a trade that might one day keep me from the English winter.

The host NGO was concerned with HIV care and before me stood a woman, perhaps in her late twenties, with a beaming smile. I knew little about HIV. What little I did know was informed mostly by Christmas Campaigns and TV ads.

I remember her vividly, her voice and her eyes in particular, far removed from anything I expected and brimming with confidence and ambition. Within a couple of minutes of our meeting she told me she was HIV+, one of the 30 per cent of women in the township infected with the virus. I began to squirm, taken aback by her openness. She pressed forward, taking my hand despite my flinch.

"Don’t worry" she said. "Many people here are also scared".

Later that night, reflecting on the meeting, I remember being struck that my poor understanding of HIV wasn't much different from that of the people of South Africa, who live with the virus daily and should understand it better.

Pandemic

South Africa is at the apex of the worlds HIV pandemic. Of the 34 million HIV positive people in the world, 5.6 million of them reside within the rainbow nation. Cosmetically, the nation boasts many of the same hallmarks of its more successful neighbours who have, by and large, reported varying degrees of success in halting new infections.

Huge billboards promote condom use, radio shows promote a “first HIV-Free generation”, clinics – many state funded and more still product of a rich NGO sector – abound, dispensing free HIV testing and life changing anti-retroviral drugs. But still, no victory moment.

The public perception of HIV in South Africa remains precarious. The disastrous Mbeki administration - which denied the existence of the virus, cut funding for ARV drugs and condemned millions of South Africans to death - is survived by a deeply entrenched fear of HIV. A litany of euphemisms and nicknames still follow the virus and are invariably stapled to all affected, confining and condemning them to the margins of society.

Reflecting on my personal encounter in 2008, I wonder if the faceless billboard campaigns and anonymous radio advertisements overseen by Zuma’s increasingly discredited government can do anything to overturn the Mbeki legacy. As Zuma and his party lurch from one scandal to the next, the messages of fidelity and moral austerity his administration peddle are being laughed off, offering little hope of a solution.

Optimism

But, despite this, there remains reason for optimism. South Africa is a breeding ground for grassroots organisations, often with ideas reaching far above their stations. And it is through many of these organisations that South Africa today finds itself at the epicentre of a new movement, coined " Sport for Development", that is remodelling and repackaging HIV education into programmes capable of breaching the initial stigma and scepticism of the South African public.

From soccer and cricket, to polo and even surfing, the convivial surrounds of the sports field are being exploited to engage vastly different sectors of South African society, and on a mass scale.  The simple tools of honest and open discourse are facilitated by play, with coaches and leaders gaining the trust of their communities and opening discussions on taboo issues that cut right to the bone.

To suggest that Sport is the elixir for a nation’s woe might be trite, but key leaders and thinkers including Nelson Mandela himself have attributed the power of sport to effect change. South Africa has been a nation adrift for some time now, its problems growing around it. As with any team, strong leadership will be needed to turn the public tide. Whether this comes from the football fields, a chance meeting at an NGO function, or the halls and chambers of the ANC’s Luthuli house, remains to be seen.

Click here to see a short film of the author's Waves for Change programme in action.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas