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'positive' role models, art, lesego motsepe, manto tshabalala-msimang, thabo mbeki, the times
We can only hope that people will remember the tragic effects that the last message of this kind wreaked on many South Africans

ANALYSIS: Famous faces can hurt efforts aimed at addressing HIV

Kim Johnson

15 February 2012

In the wake of local actress Lesego Motsepe’s astonishing public announcement, a column in Tuesday’s (14 February 2012) The Times questions the value of using celeb power as a driver of causes and campaigns.

Given the claim that celebs have on the public heart and mind, it makes sense that their star-power is often harnessed to drive messages home.

One only has to look to the world of advertising to study the effects of celeb star-power. Celebrities are frequently recruited to be the ‘ambassador’ of a product because a famous face means stock flies off shelves.

People want to smell like them, look like them, dress like them. And this influence naturally extends to taking a leaf out of their book and letting their behaviour and beliefs dictate what we do.

However as Phumla Matjila notes in her column ‘The 411 Word on the street’, when celebs recruited to causes that relate to health messaging ‘go off message’ it could spell disaster.

Matjila uses former soapie actress Lesego Motsepe’s most recent and potentially harmful announcement to explore the cons of star-power.

Just months after Lesego Motsepe told South Africa that she is HIV-positive and had been brought back from the brink by ART and changes in her lifestyle, the former soapie actress has dropped a bombshell which threatens to undo the positive effects of her former revelation.

In an interview on Friday night (10 February 2012) Motsepe told shocked Three Talk presenter Noleen that she was abandoning antiretroviral treatment (ART) for the beetroot and garlic diet advocated by the late Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Estimates erring on the side of caution subsequently showed that 330, 000 HIV-positive individuals lost their lives during the Mbeki-Manto era of HIV denialism and misinformation.

So when star-power is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it’s disastrous. 

Matjila’s piece is a little one-sided in that it focuses on the negative and forgets to cover the positive impact that stars can exert in relation to HIV messaging. But having a conversation that interrogates whether star-power is really a viable option when conveying serious messages is important given the potential damage that revelations like Motsepe’s could do.

Some might argue that Motsepe has a right to choose how she treats and manages 'her' virus, however as a self-proclaimed AIDS ambassador Motsepe’s announcement is reckless and irresponsible. Her decision to go off of her ARVs should have remained her personal and private choice, not a potentially harmful message that is announced to all and sundry.

We can only hope that people will remember the tragic effects that the last message of this kind wreaked on so many South Africans and will not take Motsepe’s message to heart.

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