Ulundi : September 20, 2002

I welcome the opportunity to meet with amaKhosi and their people to discuss our plans and tactics in the midst of the ever-raging battle against HIV/AIDS. As the leaders of their people, the actions and words of amaKhosi significantly determine the path and pace according to which we move. I thank God that our traditional leaders appreciate the severity and urgency of the threat we face over HIV/AIDS, and have opened this platform from which we may discuss our reality and decide how best we may change it. I encourage each of our communities to listen closely, not only with their ears, but with their hearts. In having gathered us together today, the message being sent is that this matter is urgent, it affects all of us and it must be dealt with in whatever way can meet with success. A change of heart can often lead to a change of action, and changed action leads to changed circumstance. If we want to change our reality of pervasive HIV/AIDS, we must be prepared to engage our hearts, and to act.

The facts and figures have been known to us, even in the most rural areas, for long enough. We have embarked on information campaigns through mass media, in our schools and on our campuses, to stem the tide of this disease by exposing the truth about what HIV/AIDS is, how one contracts it, how one prevents the possibility of contracting it and what one does to live with this disease while still enjoying a good quality of life. Armed with the facts, we hoped our people would be equipped to make the right personal decisions. Yet the battle is still raging and there are too many already affected and too many still being infected every day for us to hope that a single line of approach could be successful. It is time for us to step up the fight and highlight every facet of this disease, from its implications for the future we are trying to build, to its implications for our human interaction and relationships which, in the end, are quintessential to our failure or success as a nation.

One of the most important aspects of the fight against HIV/AIDS which has yet to be highlighted effectively, is that of removing the stigma. HIV/AIDS is a disease, contracted through sexual contact, just like cholera is a disease contracted by drinking impure water. Scientifically, it is nothing different to any disease contracted through certain actions or exposure. Although someone may have been told that their water source may be contaminated, and although they may know the link between drinking contaminated water and contracting cholera, no one deserves to get cholera. In the same way, no one deserves to get HIV/AIDS. But anyone who has contracted it needs to face the harsh reality of death, and this is not something to be endured alone. Those facing the reality of untimely death must be assisted in overcoming the initial shock, and loved through the trauma of dying. This is basic knowledge of the heart.

If we think a little further about it though, we are faced with the years in between the determination of HIV positive status and death. During these years, HIV positive individuals must live with family, friends and colleagues who will react differently to them. It is a sad truth that many people are afraid to be tested for HIV because they simply do not want to face up to the reality of their family and friends knowing they have HIV/AIDS.

We cannot allow shame to attach to HIV positive status. Within our work-places, community centres and homes we need to re-educate ourselves about HIV/AIDS, not rejecting sufferers out of hand, but recognising the sorrow, frustration and fear, and wanting to be a part of the solution. Support, compassion and care will help remove the sorrow and frustration of HIV/AIDS sufferers, but we must deal swiftly and finally with the fear attached to this disease.

Most often we fear things because we do not know the facts. Factual information removes the element of the unknown. I encourage you not to be afraid. Be open about your HIV positive status. It is important that you tell your wife and openly share this information with your loved ones. HIV must be something we discuss in our homes and in our families, not in the abstract, but with honesty and frankness. Bring your HIV positive status into the open and discuss it with those around you. You will have questions and your loved ones will have questions, but until you are free enough to talk openly it will be difficult to cope with the pressure of unspoken anxieties. HIV positive people can cope with having HIV/AIDS. HIV negative people can cope with their friend’s disease. But we have to speak openly about it. Our attitude towards this disease and towards those infected, is crucial to how we handle this difficult reality. Our attitude must be based on the facts.

The blatant fact is that HIV positive people are not dead yet. I cannot tolerate the mentality that treats them as living ghosts. In fact, HIV positive individuals are still able to be productive and are capable of giving a valuable contribution to society and their community. They are still human beings with unique talents, aspirations, needs and potential. Talented singers who are HIV positive can still sing. Likewise, gifted writers can still write. Benevolent caretakers can still nurture, heal and counsel. Teachers can still teach. Entrepreneurs can still do business. Leaders can still serve. There is no need for HIV to rob the life that remains to be lived, even though AIDS shortens the days. It has been said that the highest concentration of human potential in any one place, is in a graveyard. Let us prevent this from becoming our own reality by encouraging, assisting and empowering HIV positive people through our own right attitudes.

Sadly, the debate around HIV/AIDS has not yet moved out of the arena of ‘us and them’. Every campaign talks about people who are HIV positive, how we can help those who are suffering and what we should do to prevent contracting HIV. Yet, if we are to be honest about the present reality, one in every four of us is HIV positive. That means this is our reality, not the reality of other people. This disease is our problem, not a problem of the government or the health sector. I want to make it clear that anyone can contract HIV. I am not immune to this disease and you are not immune to it. HIV/AIDS does not respect your position in life. It does not respect your bank balance, your good intentions, your age, your marital status or your level of education. The battle against HIV/AIDS should therefore engage every one of us, and every individual must give their contribution by becoming informed, informing others and making personal choices of responsibility and respect.

But the greatest contribution this battle requires today, is compassion put into action. If you are one of the fortunate three, your first responsibility is to stay healthy. But that is not the end of it. The next equally important responsibility is to assist those who are in need with emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical support. As human beings, our lives and destinies are inextricably intertwined with those of our neighbour. We need to cultivate the ability to reach out to those in need, rather than crouching inwardly away from the horror of HIV/AIDS. We are fighting HIV/AIDS side by side and we must become aware of the magnitude and significance of this battle. This battle is set to overshadow any our ancestors fought in the past. In fact, unchecked now, AIDS will kill more people in this country than all the wars combined which the Zulu nation and other people of this province fought on this territory since the beginning of recorded time.

There is greater urgency in the call to battle against HIV/AIDS than in any before it. There is more at stake, for the outcome will affect not only a group of people for a limited time, but every one of us living in South Africa far into our collective future. The death of our young people, our babies and parents have far-reaching repercussions. Not only is our work-force being depleted, but it is also losing strength for productivity. This will have as yet immeasurable economic consequences on both the micro and macro economic level, as households lose their breadwinners and South Africa loses its workers. We know the devastation will be vast in the wake of HIV/AIDS. But our commitment to the fight against this disease today will determine the depth of the tragedy we will face tomorrow.

We must step up the fight against this disease on every level, from every angle. Science is racing to find a cure, but as things stand there is no known cure for HIV/AIDS. Even as science moves forward in the treatment of this disease and gives us better, more accurate information, there is still a great deal of despicable superstition around HIV/AIDS within our communities. Now listen to what I am about to say. Rape does not cure HIV/AIDS. Rape cannot cure HIV/AIDS. It cannot make you better. It cannot prolong your life. It cannot help you in any way. Rape is a despicable act committed by brutish cowards. I will not tolerate the sheer disrespect and malevolence it displays. Having sexual intercourse with a virgin will not cure HIV/AIDS. It cannot change an HIV positive status into an HIV negative status. Rape and sex with virgins will only cause the spread of HIV and the death of more people from AIDS.

These are facts we must pronounce loudly so that everyone hears the truth. There are certain actions which I just cannot tolerate among our communities. Those who knowingly infect people out of their own rage and brokenness cannot secure the understanding or acceptance they seek. You are creating a barrier which no amount of need can bridge. I know that within anyone who is ill or suffering there is a tremendous need for someone to understand and care. But HIV infected individuals have a fundamental responsibility not to infect other people. You must tell your partner you have HIV/AIDS and allow them to make their own decision about their sexual interactions with you.

I realise that today it is regarded as stupid for anyone to have sexual intercourse without the use of prophylactics, such as condoms. But we as leaders of our people have a greater responsibility than to talk only about that, important as it is. As traditional leaders, it is our duty to uphold the customs and traditions of our people. We as a people had strong morals because we had a moral code in accordance with which we conducted ourselves. Sex was not something to play with. Full sexual intercourse was forbidden between people before they were married. While people were unmarried, it meant that although they were free to engage in heavy petting, there was a point beyond which one could not go.

The foundation of this was that we respected each other. We observed the same law as that which Christians are taught - to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. Because we respected each other, it was a shame to force another man's daughter to have full sexual relations before marriage. It was described as entering another man's cattle kraal not through the gate. So I would think that while we must also speak about prophylactics, we as amaKhosi, Makgosi, Barena, Mahosi, should go beyond just that and look more seriously at whether it is not possible to embrace some of our norms and in particular our own moral codes. We have a duty to do that. It is in fact our duty as leaders to remind our people of where we come from as a people, and why it is important to look at the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in the context of our moral codes. It is difficult for a Zulu man to talk to children on matters of sex. It was something adults spoke about to more grown up children, who in turn would warn young ones as their moral guardians about the risks and dangers of promiscuity.

It is not wrong to advise people to use prophylactics, but it is wrong to speak about it without condemning promiscuity. We were not a promiscuous people even before our people became Christian proselytes. It would be a dereliction of our duty as Traditional Leaders if we spoke about how to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases, without reminding young people of our moral standards and our moral codes as African people. I quite sympathise with the viewpoint which the Catholic Church upholds on this matter. Here in the Kingdom of the Zulu, before our conquest, people were set up into Regiments and were given permission through Royal decree of the King, when to prepare to get married. Unlike in our generation there were no illegitimate children, let alone these diseases of civilisation.

In South Africa we are facing issues of life and death every day, in every community, at every age. We must face up to this fact with the appropriate sobriety and courage, affording the reality of HIV/AIDS the priority status it demands. This is not something we can talk away or teach away. Right action must follow if we are to defeat HIV/AIDS. I myself became tired of all the talk without action. Words cannot express my unutterable grief when I see in a young man or woman’s eyes the knowledge of coming death. These are people full of potential, beautiful human beings, whose contribution to our collective life will be limited and cut short. More deeply wounding than this, is to see a baby, for whom the gift of life is not yet fully revealed, having life taken from it by a disease contracted through its mother. The maternal instinct urges a mother to protect her child, to nurture and provide for it. HIV/AIDS savages the bond between mother and child. In the moment of birth, she has given her baby certain death.

These are terrible, terrible images to contemplate. Yet they are the reality of HIV/AIDS. It is for this reason that I myself investigated the various aspects of this disease and sought scientific avenues to protect those most vulnerable and innocent. At my suggestion, KwaZulu Natal began to offer Nevirapine to HIV positive pregnant women. The administering of anti-retrovirals will significantly decrease the number of women passing their HIV status on to their babies during birth. Babies who would have died, will now live. The possibility of life is a precious gift, which is not so much an honour as a duty to bestow. Therefore, I caused our Province to join the Treatment Action Campaign in its legal challenge against national Government to make anti-retroviral drugs available in hospitals throughout South Africa. I know that our battle is not limited to KwaZulu Natal. Our responsibility reaches throughout South Africa to every man, woman and baby who are affected by this disease. Whether immediately or collaterally, this includes everyone.

We have won a victory in favour of life. For the Nevirapine programme to work, however, women must take the responsibility to have themselves tested for HIV/AIDS before giving birth. If you test HIV positive, ask for Nevirapine. Once you have Nevirapine, take it according to the instructions. Nevirapine can save your baby’s life. You need to use it.

Already we face a pressing need for people to fill the gap left by those who are dying prematurely. When a productive young person dies, someone must take up their work. When a mother dies, someone must look after her child. When a father dies, someone must support his family. There are very few people who have not yet come face to face with the reality of HIV/AIDS. At this stage, we know our enemy. We know that indiscriminate sexual intercourse opens the possibility of contracting HIV. We know that halting the spread of this disease may demand a change in lifestyle, attitude and preference. We know there will be a sacrifice.

The choice of abstinence is the only absolutely assured way of remaining HIV negative, but we must face the reality that a message of abstinence will not elicit this lifestyle choice from everyone. In fact, the frustrating reality is that there are still people who forgo using condoms even after hearing the message to condomise. This is madness. But we cannot make choices for each other. Every individual must make the choice for themselves of whether they will act responsibly, and whether they will allow their attitude to be changed by truth and compassion.

The role of our amaKhosi is to provide all the information necessary to making an informed decision. Our amaKhosi are also in a position to inspire right attitudes and right action. We need to bring discussions on sex into public debate. We need to talk about how to prolong one’s life and have a good quality of life even while HIV positive. I encourage our amaKhosi to bring qualified doctors into our communities to educate people on staying healthy. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes physical exercise and following a balanced, nutritious diet. Taking vitamins and immune boosters are also important. This is what one should do. What one cannot do, is to use alcohol or drugs. Alcohol will shorten the life-span of an HIV positive person, as will drugs. In other words, alcohol will kill you.

Let us be open about these and other facts with our children. The sooner they know how to protect themselves, the better. Information is a vital element in the growth of a child. Let us be open about the facts of life. But let us also offer them information on youth leadership, on education, on fulfilling their aspirations, building relationships, interacting across cultures and impacting their own generation through ideas, the arts and media. Let us inspire our children to live fully, not merely equip them to survive. I believe we must find a balance within our nation. Let us meet pessimism with optimism, need with goodwill and despair with the determination to bring change. In this way, we may again tip the scales towards a future which is as prosperous, stable, pluralistic and filled with hope as we ever could have imagined.

Today, let us stand up and say with one voice that HIV/AIDS will not defeat us. It will not stop us. It will not cause us to lose faith. Let us be united in our fight against HIV/AIDS, opening our hearts to change and cultivating the right attitude to secure it. I trust that under the leadership of our amaKhosi, the communities represented here today will begin to see our battle from a new perspective. This is a battle we can win, but we need to win it through openness and collective responsibility. I believe we are well equipped. Let us step up the pace and do what is right. Let us beat HIV/AIDS.