December 3, 2010 – The Nelson Mandela Foundation Dialogue Programme hosted an HIV/AIDS community conversation in KwaMakhutha in KwaZulu-Natal to commemorate World AIDS Day.
The community conversations programme is a country-wide initiative that aims to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa by getting communities to talk openly about the factors that drive the spread of the virus.
Using a facilitated dialogue model, the conversations open up lines of communication between community members, making for safe spaces in which individuals, organisations and communities can begin to address the main drivers of the epidemic, developing potential solutions to the challenges they face.
The conversation was led by facilitator Mbali Gumede, who introduced the nationwide World AIDS Day theme of “I am responsible. We are responsible. South Africa is taking responsibility.” Gumede emphasised that the day’s dialogue would be used to discuss how to take responsibility for HIV/AIDS and its effects and implications on an individual as well as a community level.
The community conversation was attended by the local councillors, South African Police Service Station Commander Captain Khumalo, nursing staff from the local clinic and various community organisations.
Facilitator Nonhlanhla Ngcobo reminded everyone that HIV activist Gugu Dlamini was murdered in KwaMakhutha after disclosing her HIV status 10 years ago. She asked the community to remember Dlamini as an activist who paid the ultimate price for her courage and to remember that stigma was still a problem that needed address.
It emerged during a time of reflection that the working relationship between the local clinic and the community has improved tremendously through the conversations process, following increased access to anti-retroviral treatment and other services. An outcome of this improved relationship was the establishment of a clinic committee. This committee plans on building a community health centre in 2011 that will provide overnight care services to HIV-positive people, to avoid unnecessary hospital-level care.
Facilitator Wendy Dludlu shared with the group how the community conversations process had helped her deal her brother’s death from AIDS-related illnesses. She explained that she was now able to speak openly about his death, and that she felt empowered to resolve her anger and build better relationships with her family.
A young member of the community spoke up and said she felt proud of her culture and cultural practices such as intercrural sex and virginity testing. She said that, having undergone virginity testing, she felt encouraged to abstain from penetrative sexual activity and take responsibility for her health.
Captain Khumalo, who oversees visible policing at the KwaMakhutha Police Station, has attended five community conversations so far. He says he felt challenged to address the issues that were being raised every month by the community, such as gender-based violence, alcohol abuse and the trafficking of drugs. He spoke eloquently about how community conversations had helped focus the police response to crime, assisting the department prioritise claims and concerns. He said that he was supportive of the conversations and that, through them, he understood better what the community needs were.
A group of young men, previously known as drug users and pushers, stood up and introduced their new organisation, Youth Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse (YADAA), formed following their confession of wunga dependency, made at a previous community conversation.
One of them, who had just completed 14 days of rehabilitation, spoke about how he was now focusing on helping other wunga users and pushers end their addiction.
The group of men also mentioned that they had been invited by residents of neighbouring communities to come and assist with drug problems. The message from the KwaMakhutha community was that YADAA needed to expand its operations. The organisation will be formally launched in early 2011.
All in all, the conversation was successful, and community members renewed their commitment to responsibility regarding matters of personal and sexual health.