The latest Human Science Research Council national HIV prevalence study found that about 12 percent of South Africans were living with HIV. The study also showed that only about a quarter of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 had accurate knowledge about how the virus was transmitted sexually.
While sex education, including HIV prevention, is part of national life orientation curriculum gaps in education around sexuality, condom use, as well as communication and decision-making skills within relationships is still lacking, according to a 2012 United Nations Population Fund study.
AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has now started youth outreach programmes to ensure that young men and women know how to protect themselves from HIV. Nomthandazo Kumalo is one of the TAC’s youth educators.
When Kumalo began coming home with stacks of condoms in her purse, she says her mother began to wonder. It took Kumalo time to convince her mum that carrying condoms was all in a day’s work for the young HIV activist from Duduza on Johannesburg’s East Rand who spends her time speaking to youth at local schools about sex.
“I go to high schools around the townships requesting the school heads to give me an opportunity to have sexual health programmes with the learners,” she tells OurHealth. “(The students) feel free to talk to me as I am in the same age group as them.”
“I’m changing lives of our youth and giving hope to those who have lost it,” adds Kumalo, who joined TAC in 2010. “I believe activism chose me.”
TAC community mobiliser Fikile Mtsweni is Kumalo’s manager. Mtsweni says Kumalo has become one of the TAC’s strongest advocates for the sexual and reproductive health rights of young people and says her work is reducing the number of sexually transmitted infections in communities.
Even Kumalo’s mother has come to recognise the importance of her daughter’s work.
“She motivates people of her age,” says Phumzile Kumalo. “I thank TAC for having such programmes where our children are being taught the dangers of unsafe sex.”