The film Born in Africa may contribute to find a solution
01 / 1999
At the end of 1998, nearly twenty years after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the "New York Times" reported the following: "A volunteer working to persuade South Africans not to discriminate against HIV-infected people was beaten to death last week by her neighbors, who accused her of bringing shame on their community by revealing that she was HIV-positive. The killing scared other anti-AIDS advocates and said it proved what they have said for years - - although 3 million South Africans are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, nearly all are afraid to admit it because of the hostility they face. The woman killed, Gugu Dlamini, 36, a volunteer field worker for the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS, went public on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, speaking about her HIV infection on Zulu-language radio and on television. "
The murder of Gugu Dlamini has caused outrage among the world’s stop-AIDS community. And, without doubt, many Africans who are living with HIV and who were considering speaking out publicly - - with a view to contributing to efforts to curb the spread of the virus and improve the lives of those living with HIV and AIDS - - have certainly had a change of heart.
The specter of horrific stigmatization, rejection, and physical assault potentially facing those living with HIV is not limited to South Africa. Here in West Africa, people who live with HIV are often reluctant to speak out for those very reasons. There are countries in which authorities have struggled to find even one single countryman or - woman willing to speak out in the context of prevention and solidarity campaigns.
At the same time, a great many West Africans continue to be skeptical about the very existence of HIV. When asked what one could do to convince them, the response is invariably, "I want to see it for myself. Until I personally see somebody who has AIDS, I won’t believe it, and I certainly won’t change my lifestyle. "
These same people say that they have indeed seen pictures of Americans who live (d)with AIDS, such as Rock Hudson. However, such images are deemed to be insufficient evidence: "I want to see somebody like me. "
What can the stop-AIDS community do in the face of this dilemma? On the one hand, the rights (the very lives!)of those living with HIV or AIDS must be protected to the fullest. And on the other, hundreds of thousands of doubting, sexually active people staunchly proclaim that they won’t change until they’ve "seen it". What to do?
At least two safe and proven solutions come to mind.
First of all, religious leaders can do a great deal to change people’s minds about the existence of AIDS. In Senegal, one highly respected, charismatic Moslem leader addressed the issue head-on. Aware that many of the faithful of his region questioned whether AIDS really existed, and understanding what needed to be said to convince them, he delivered a clear, simple, high-impact message: "My friends, I assure you that I myself have seen it. " For a great many people, that was all that was necessary to remove their doubts.
Secondly, the 83-minute film "Born in Africa" ("Fils d’Afrique")is a tried-and-tested audio-visual treasure that can be used to overcome skepticism with regard to the existence of the epidemic. Although it was produced nearly a decade ago, "Born in Africa" is still an invaluable resource for the stop-AIDS community of the entire continent.
"Born in Africa" is the story of popular Ugandan musician Philly Bongoley Lutaaya, who in 1989 courageously became the first prominent African to speak out about the fact that he was living with AIDS. Through emotionally moving interviews with Mr. Lutaaya, his family, friends and colleagues, and through documentary footage of his final tour of Uganda, the film introduces us to a wonderful human being determined to foster compassion for those living with the virus and to save future generations from infection. He speaks repeatedly of his pride of being African. And images of him testify undeniably to the fact that his body’s defenses are losing out to HIV.
When used in the Sahel in training sessions or neighborhood prevention activities, or when broadcast on television, "Born in Africa" not only helps viewers to understand the epidemic and its consequences better and - - if need be - - to become convinced of the existence of the epidemic, it invariably touches people profoundly and in a most most positive fashion.
While following Philly Lutaaya’s story, one cannot avoid feeling a powerful sense of compassion for him. One comes face-to-face with the reality that this man is not a pariah, not some shame-bringing or gruesome monster, but rather, "He’s a shining example of the best of mankind. " It’s like those films in which you know that the hero will die, but to the very end you desperately hope that he won’t.
It is simply unfathomable that one could watch "Born in Africa" and subsequently even consider mistreating a member of one’s community simply because that person is living with HIV. Quite on the contrary, the film has a tendency to stir people to positive action on behalf of HIV prevention and against discrimination of those affected by the epidemic.
The stop-AIDS community has at its disposable a great arsenal of pedagogical modules to teach people about HIV prevention, the bio-medical aspects of HIV and AIDS, and many of the socio-economic consequences of the epidemic. However, what are the tools that we have to address the sense of shame that contributed to the murder of Gugu Dlamini? Shame is abstract and often complicated and powerful in nature, making it tough to deal with. To get the upper hand, we need something stronger, and that something, at least in some cases, could well be compassion. The life of Philly Lutaaya, and this film about him, are precious sources of compassion that must be made ever more well known.
"Born in Africa" is available in English, French and Swahili. It is distributed by: DSR, Inc. , 6679-P Santa Barbara Road, Elkridge, MD 21075, USA. Tel (410)579-4508. Fax (410)579-8412. E-mail: dsr@dsr-inc. com
ZARITSKY, John, Born in Africa, In drafting this document, I also drew on an article written by Donald G. McNeil and entitled "Neighbors Kill an H. I. V. - Positive AIDS Activist in South Africa", The New York Times, December 28, 1998.
GDT (The Global Dialogues Trust) - B.P. 11589, Dakar, SENEGAL. Tél : (0221)824 97 65 Bureau du Burkina Faso: 06 B.P. 9342, Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO Bureau du Royaume-Uni: c/o SJS, 7 Allison Court, Metro Centre, Gateshead NE11 9YS, UNITED KINGDOM - Senegal - www.globaldialogues.org - firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com