At a think-tank meeting held in Maseru, Lesotho, in 2006, SADC member states identified the practice of having two or more sexual partners over a sustained period of time as one of the leading reasons for the rapid spread of HIV in southern Africa. The phrase ‘multiple and concurrent partnerships’ was coined to describe the practice. HIV prevention campaigns in some SADC countries are now trying to encourage ‘partner reduction’. This is hardly a new concept. It’s the ‘Be Faithful’ part in the long-standing ABC strategy of HIV prevention. Only this time there is greater vigor in promoting the message. This focus could very well publicly question some of the practices deemed as part of traditional culture, says Lebo Ramafoko, Senior Executive of Media Programmes at Soul City, a health communication initiative championing the message in the sub-region.
We want to talk about things that we know, but we hide. Some of them we protect in the name of re-claiming our heritage or whatever we want to talk about. We want to look internally and say: ‘What is it about some of the practices and the way we live our lives that is putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk?’, Ramafoko says.
Partnerships with traditional leaders and organizations are crucial if the ideal of partner reduction is to be reached. That is why Soul City is reaching out to organizations such as the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) in the campaign.
But Kgosi Setlamorago Thobejane, leader of the Bapedi ba Mmafefe tribe in Limpopo and office bearer of CONTRALESA, cautions that ‘we should not play ignorant’.
‘South Africa, if not the whole world, predominantly the majority (of the people) are women. The intellectuals and the researchers have proven to us that the women are in the majority in every corner of society. Then, how do we balance it ‘ that we don’t leave them outside of nature? Yes, it would have been an ideal that every individual upon practicing this particular exercise of life, we do it as one-to-one. But then what about the surplus of human beings?’, he argued.
‘The issue here before us is to make sure that whatever format of partnership should be based on safe sex. I think that’s the bottom line’, says Kgosi Thobejane.