John Kani

World-renowned actor, director and writer John Kani has eight children, four sons and four daughters, ranging in age from 33 to six years old.

1. Have you ever spoken to your children about sex?

“Of course I have. With my daughters, my wife and I sit down and talk to them when they start to menstruate, so about 12 or 13 years old. It is part of my father custom. We slaughter a goat to welcome her to womanhood. And we explain this thing of girlfriend-boyfriend, getting pregnant, awareness of STDs and contraception. I do the same with my sons. We also told our children from when they were very young, that no one must touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. If that happens, they must tell me or mama immediately.”

2. How should parents broach the subject of sex with their children?

“You must choose a time when everything is normal, not after a confrontation, like if they have come home late. Say that you need to talk. As an actor and a writer, I make it into a real once-upon-a-time story, and start off by making them laugh as much as possible. I start by saying that I didn’€™t know much because my parents did not believe in telling me anything. After laughing about how conservative my own parents are, then they are relaxed and ready to be told. I say to them that they probably know by then how a person falls pregnant, but I want to check that we are all on the same page. I don’€™t want to take it for granted that they know.”

3. What can parents do to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

“Love your children dearly and unconditionally, irrespective of their behaviour. Use that love to make your children understand that the likelihood of them contracting HIV is not remote, but dangerously present. I explain that I need to ensure that they stay alive. My oldest son is at university, and I always ask him if he is using a condom. I tell him that I love him and I don’€™t want to be attending his funeral.

“But the best thing for a parent is to be an exemplary example. I don’€™t fool around and I don’€™t do drugs. For all my fame and fortune, I don’€™t have a girlfriend. I am married.

“I can’€™t hold a conversation with my children about their sexual behaviour if I am sleeping around and my wife and I are squabbling.”


Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has two daughters aged 35 and 30.

1. Have you ever spoken to your children about sex?

“I first started speaking to my children about sex when they were in pre-school. I used books on anatomy simplified for children to explain how they were born. Nothing like stuff about aeroplanes bringing them down to me! When they were older, I used my obstetrics and gynaecology books. I advised them not to engage in sex at an early age before achieving their ambitions in life. I also told them that if they had any problems they should talk to me or my husband.”

2. How should parents broach the subject of sex with their children?

“Parents should be open but sensitive. They should be accessible and supportive.”

3. What can parents do to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

“Parents should be role models to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. They should encourage open discussion with their children. Always guide your children on sexuality but demand respect.”


Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane

Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane, one of the country’€™s foremost entertainment promoters, has a daughter and four sons ranging in age from 20 to seven years old.

1. Have you ever spoken to your children about sex?

“I have spoken to them about sex and I make it a point to do so regularly, especially when issues like child abuse are exposed on television.

“I found it necessary to talk to the children as soon as they demonstrate sexual awareness, either in the questions that they ask me or when they discuss with friends or siblings.

“I tell them that sex is an act of love between two mature people who are committed to each other. I have also emphasised that people who really care for one another are prepared to wait. I often comment on how different it was when we were young because love-making did not carry the risk of death.”

2. How should parents broach the subject of sex with their children?

“At first you feel awkward and fear that open talk with your child may be interpreted as endorsing promiscuity. But the consequences of leaving children to discover sexuality for themselves are too ghastly to contemplate.

“Traditionally , uncles and aunts are responsible for sex education. On the other hand child abuse is perpetuated mostly by a relative or a family friend, so it is more secure for a parent to exercise this role.

“I have found that open talk, no matter how sensitive the topic, brings you closer to your child. Be prepared for the shock when you discover the extent of your child’s knowledge!

“Most importantly, it becomes the prerogative of parents to live according to those same standards that they set for their children.”

3. What can parents do to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

“I think it tragic that communities continue to stigmatise people with HIV/AIDS and thus make it difficult for those affected to ‘€˜come out’€™. How often do we read about someone dying from an undisclosed, long illness? Sadly, it is mostly our young people who are dying.

“None of us are perfect parents, but if we’re willing to confront issues we shall have begun to find solutions.”

Thami Mazwai

Publisher and SABC board member Thami Mazwai has six children ranging in age from 24 to two, including Bongo Maffin singer Thandiswa.

1. Have you ever spoken to your children about sex?

“I have spoken to the older ones, when they were about 11 or 12. I was very guarded, but I think it is important to basically tell them to respect their bodies. When they get to about 17, I am more explicit.”

2. How should parents broach the subject of sex with their children?

“Parents need to talk to their children. If we don’€™t tell them, they will get it from their friends at school. Parents will have no control over what they are told, so it is best that we talk to them. Often you find that they already know about sex.”

3. What can parents do to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

“When they are still in their early teens, I think it’€™s best to try to get them to keep their chastity belts on. But once they reach 17 or 18, it is fair to assume they may be doing something. I simply tell them ‘€˜if you are active, use a condom’€™. We can discourage them from being sexually active, but we can’€™t stop it. So it is best to say straight out that they must use a condom.”

Alice Bell

Fair Lady editor Alice Bell has three children aged between 29 and 25.

1. Have you ever spoken to your children about sex?

“I started when they were younger than 10. It was something we discussed quite naturally as and when the children asked questions where sex and sexuality cropped up.

“Whatever the question was, I gave them the answer, geared to whatever level of comprehension their ages dictated.

“I also made sure that as various key points in their lives approached ‘€“ going to school, starting to take a keener interest in their and others’€™ `rude bits’€™, the onset of puberty ‘€“ they understood what was happening and what things were likely to happen, and why certain ways of accepting or rejecting those things were necessary.

“They knew where babies came from, how they were made, why love was an important and highly enriching part of sex, and so on. The upshot of all this was that by the time they reached puberty, sex and sexual behaviour really wasn’€™t a hot topic any more.”

2. How should parents broach the subject of sex with their children?

“Take it as it comes and respond as honestly and in as much or little detail as the child’€™s age requires. Forget about your personal shyness or embarrassment and understand before you say even the first word, the way you respond and your whole body language — tone of voice, demeanour, eye contact, face colour, etc — will clearly indicate to your child how you feel about talking about sex.

“I think it’€™s also important to remember that, as an abstract concept, the sex act does sound a bit strange when you try to explain it the first few times, especially as your child is unlikely ever to have seen it being done.

“It can also sound quite frightening ‘€“ imagine how you would feel if someone says that babies are made by the man putting his big toe, which first swells significantly in size, into your nostril and pumping in a teaspoon of fluid. You’€™ve never seen anyone do it, and it sounds as though it could hurt.

“To add to the confusion, the person telling you this has stopped looking you in the eye, started fidgeting in their seat, and their voice has gone all funny. Either that or when you ask a question they seem to get angry and roughly tell you that you’€™re bad for asking rude questions and these things must wait until you are much older.”

3. What can parents do to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?

“Make sure that your child understands what HIV is, how it is passed from one person to another and how transmission can be prevented.

“But much more importantly, ensure that your child accepts and is comfortable with the fact that, ideally, sex is part of a loving relationship. And although no one will ostracise them for casual sex, they must be aware of the risks they are taking and that, just like Russian roulette, unprotected sex can be a killer.

“It is also important to stress that what they do with their bodies is, and always must be, their choice. No one else has the right to demand or impose any type of behaviour from or on them. And if it is their choice always to insist that their sexual partner wears a condom ‘€“ or, after a sufficiently long period of a stable relationship, that both partners remain monogamous ‘€“ that choice must be honoured by their partner.”


How to start talking to your child about sex:

  • Don’€™t panic: Your children will probably do some things that you don’€™t want them to do. Panic won’€™t stop them, but good information can help them to stay safe and make wise decisions.
  • Start young: The earlier you begin, the easier it is. By the time your children are teenagers, they will be prepared and less likely to make unwise choices.
  • Encourage talk: Be open to talking with your children about all kinds of things. Create an environment of trust and communication. Find ways to gently start talking about difficult things now.
  • Talk often: A once-in-a-lifetime sex talk will not give your children all the information they need. Repeat yourself and make sure you have been understood.
  • Be sensitive: Respect the age and stage that your child is at. Don’€™t give more information than they want or need.
  • Be supportive and positive: If you shout at your children or ignore their difficult questions, you will make communication very difficult.
  • Say what you believe: Don’€™t be shy to tell your children what you believe. They want and need some moral guidance from you.
  • Listen: When children come to you with a question, show respect and listen. Make sure you understand their questions.
  • Be honest: If you don’€™t know the answer, say so. If you don’€™t feel good talking about sex, say so. But try to say so in a way that doesn’€™t stop communication. Suggest someone else that your children could speak to, to get answers. Try to learn with them.

[From: “Tips on Talking to your Children about Difficult Things” produced by love Life and Tube Talk.]