There's not much that southern African governments won't try in their fight against the HIV epidemic that is destroying their societies. Since a 2005 South African study found that male circumcision reduces the risk of transmitting HIV by 60 percent in cases of heterosexual sex, that war has been waged increasingly with tiny sets of forceps and scissors.
In Zimbabwe, where more than one in eight men under age 49 is HIV positive, health organizations have recruited a new ally in their mission to circumcise as many Zimbabwean men as possible, thus limiting the virus's spread. Wallace Chirumiko is a reggae dancehall singer, one of the country's most popular musicians. He sings under the stage name -- which all evidence suggests is completely separate from his current health campaign -- of Winky D.
Circumcision, Winky D told Zimbabwe's Nehanda radio, is "one of the coolest moves you will ever make. I should know ... I made that move. Takaipa!" Takaipa is the name of a popular Winky D song. "That is why I am asking you to think about getting circumcised this school holiday." He supposedly added, in a statement that sounds suspiciously like it was written by a government publicist rather than, say, a young dancehall star, "Being cool is not just about having a string of hit songs. It is about taking care of yourself and looking after your health. It is about making sure you are presentable, smart and clean all the time." His hit "Musarova Bigman" was recently nominated for song of the year at Zimbabwe's annual National Arts Merit Awards.
His announcement came as part of a national program in Zimbabwe called "Be Smart, Get Circumcised," or "Pinda mu Smart" in Shona, the Bantu language strain that dominates the country. The Pinda mu Smart organizers say that, with Winky D's help, they circumcised about 7,000 men during a recent April campaign and hope to snip 20,000 more in August. The campaign is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by the U.S. program President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), initiated by President George W. Bush.
Pinda mu Smart organizers say they want to circumcise 80 percent of Zimbabwean men, or about 5 million people. But a similar program in nearby Swaziland is only aiming for 160,000 men, or about a quarter of the male population. Even if the Swaziland campaign is feasible, it's difficult to see how Zimbabwe could triple their success rate. Swaziland is physically tiny, crisscrossed by NGOs and aid groups, and receives substantial support from the U.S. as well as neighboring South Africa. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is politically isolated by the violent rule of President-for-life Robert Mugabe, whose 2008 massacre of political opponents before that year's election alienated foreign governments and sent many NGOs fleeing.
If Winky D is going to help, then, he's got a serious task ahead of him. The rapper, who calls himself "the poor people devotee," has made service to his many beleaguered countrymen central to his public image. In the Pinda mu Smart effort, organizers say his contribution includes recording two songs in support of circumcision, which reportedly play occasionally on the radio in an effort to drive volunteers to the tents where procedures are performed for free. Unfortunately, neither of these songs appears to be available on YouTube, so you'll have to go to Zimbabwe if you want to hear them. If you do, bring your scissors and forceps.
Photo courtesy WinkyD.co.zw
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