Pretoria – President Jacob Zuma has met with Academy Award-winning actor and activist Charlize Theron in Pretoria, where they discussed South Africa’s response to HIV/Aids and Theron’s role in the fight against the disease.
In 2008, the United Nations named South African-born Theron as its Messenger of Peace, tasked with promoting efforts to end violence against women. The UN says on its website the Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from the fields of art, literature, music and sports.
Following the meeting on Monday, Zuma said Theron’s UN humanitarian role continued to give South Africa’s fight against HIV a big boost.
“She has been a pillar of strength in promoting our programmes. Today has been a very special day with this good citizen of ours joining us, she is representing South Africa in many respects. We believe the education of young people goes a long way to prevent any escalation of the disease. That’s what Charlize has been doing.”
Flanked by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé, Zuma said South Africa needed to play a leading role in the fight against HIV on the continent.
“We believe the successes we make in South Africa will have a big impact on the continent.”
Theron is recognised for her grassroots work focusing on social issues, particularly in South Africa, where she has the Africa Outreach Project. It provides funding for a mobile health and computer clinic that visits high schools in rural communities affected by HIV/Aids.
The project provided about 5 000 students in remote communities with access to counselling and testing for HIV and other health issues, as well as computer training and health education, with a special focus on preventing HIV.
Theron has also participated in a series of public service announcements in support of the Cape Town Rape Crisis Centre, urging no tolerance for rape and domestic violence.
Theron won the 2004 Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the Hollywood drama Monster, in which she played Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer whose youth was characterized by abuse.
On Monday, she urged youngsters in South Africa not to stop the conversation on HIV prevention.
“We can never stop talking about this disease… If we don’t feel safe in our environment to talk about it, we cannot combat it. We have to create the environment through which the youth of South Africa can talk about this and ask any question.
“It’s always very special to return home and when I’m able to lend my support … we have come so far in this country with our HIV programme. We have the highest number of people who are on HIV treatment but we still have challenges… Young girls should be empowered enough to protect themselves…the school environment should be safe for that to happen.”
Meanwhile, Motsoaledi, who has been credited for improving South Africa’s response to HIV, said since the new testing campaign was launched in 2010, the stigma surrounding the virus in the country had dropped dramatically.
“You can go to any clinic. People are no longer ashamed to say, ‘I’m on ARVs’. If they don’t get them, they come to you and demand them,” he said. – SAnews.gov.za