About Brothers for Life

There's a new man in South Africa

Spreading HIV awareness through fun and football

The United States Government’s various HIV/AIDS education and prevention projects under the umbrella of Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA) were showcased to staff and partners during a day of edutainment, football and fun in the sun on Wednesday, 14 October 2009.

The event was held at the premises of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Pretoria, and was attended by about 300 people throughout the course of the day, including staff from the US Embassy, the Centers for Disease Control and the Peace Corps.

Olga Mashia, youth and prevention specialist at USAID, explained that the rationale behind hosting the event was “to create awareness about socially responsible behaviour while at the same time enjoying ourselves”.

Information stands were set up on site and workshops were hosted by JHESSA partners such as Footballers for Life, the Community Media Trust (CMT), Sonke Gender Justice and Drama AIDS Education (DramAidE), as well as a free HIV voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) service run by New Start.

The various projects are inter-related, all dealing in some way with HIV and AIDS awareness as well as responsible social and sexual behaviour. Topics under discussion included prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT), violence against women, and the dangers of having multiple and concurrent partners.

Among the speakers was Eric Radebe, an HIV-positive father and CMT district facilitator who shared his experiences of how he and his HIV-positive wife went about the process of falling pregnant and giving birth in a careful and responsible way, using the correct medication and getting the proper antenatal and postnatal care. His candour and openness also served to emphasise the importance of the father’s role in helping ensure that HIV does not get passed on from mother to infant.

One of the primary reasons behind the information-sharing day was to highlight one of JHHESA’s recently launched programmes, Brothers for Life, which has already won a Loerie award for its striking logo depicting two clasped hands.

According to BFL programme manager Mandla Ndlovu, this programme is aimed at tapping into the “brotherhood” of men in South Africa, encouraging them to learn from each other and to strive to do the right thing in their interactions with their partners and families.

“The reception to the campaign has been amazing so far, especially from different levels of government but also from individuals who want to do something to effect a sea change in attitudes,” he said. Already, BFL has 20 000 subscribers to its SMS database, driving the process of learning between “brothers” – be it among friends, or at church groups, societies and even shebeens.

“My role model was not a celebrity but was just an ordinary, stable, solid man who was the brother of a friend,” he related. “It helps to have prominent people in the programme, but we are targeting a groundswell that holds up the everyday brother as a role model.”

This ethos was effectively illustrated by DramAidE, which staged an entertaining playlet using drama, humour and role-play to convey the Brothers for Life message. For its advertising campaign, BFL headed out into the urban and rural areas of South Africa and asked women to nominate male role models in their communities who typify the “real man” the campaign is asking others to emulate.

The youth-focused Scrutinize HIV and AIDS awareness campaign, which won a Khuza Award – voted for by teenagers – earlier this year, also made its presence felt on the day, with comedian Joey Rasdien donning soccer boots and joining in the action on the pitch.

“I have an ability to change people’s perceptions, and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly,” said Rasdien, the “face” of the animated Scrutinize campaign. “Because of that, it’s a cause that’s very close to my heart.”

Rasdien co-conceived Scrutinize with Matchboxology CEO Cal Bruns, who is proud of the fact that the campaign is the only such initiative in the world that has won a people’s choice award.

While the animated adverts have become an online hit, Bruns said “the magic of the campaign is that it has touched people using the mass media, which are accessed by the bulk of young people in South Africa, and has also been taken to communities, university campuses and schools.”

New Start offered free VCT services on the day, comprising pre- and post-test counselling as well as a confidential HIV test. Those who wished to be tested were not required to disclose their real names and every step of the process was handled professionally and compassionately by trained counsellors and clinic staff.

They use two different types of HIV test kits to test the blood to ensure the accuracy of the results, explained senior counsellor Zandile Zulu, and provide advice on prevention or, if the test was positive, on further action and options.

The day ended with fun football matches between the US Government agencies and their partners, with the alluring incentive of a striking Brothers for Life beaded trophy, made by the African Allsorts social upliftment craft project, as a reward.

“We’ve had great support today,” said Patrick Coleman of JHHESA. “Everyone’s having a good time and learning a lot, and we’re very grateful for the opportunity to host such an event.”