WHEN President Jacob Zuma took the unprecedented step to publicly declare the results of his recent HIV test, he sent a bold message intended to bolster the government's HIV-Aids programme.
The message is a simple one: if we take the time to get tested and be transparent about our status, particularly to our loved ones, we stand a better chance at winning the battle against the scourge of HIV-Aids.
How others missed this message is beyond comprehension.
Zuma's declaration also brought to the fore the depth of ignorance, prejudice, cynicism and the stigma associated with the pandemic.
The avalanche of criticism betrayed the depth of the problem and the desperation of others to attach a political label to an otherwise noble gesture of the president.
Those who ridiculed and rubbished Zuma's declaration deliberately downplayed the profound message his declaration carries and elected to draw parallels with his married life.
Makhosini Nkosi in an article, "Zuma sent out wrong message by declaring his HIV status", published in Sowetan yesterday, opines that Zuma should have stuck to the government message of abstinence, being faithful and condomising.
However, he fails to acknowledge that at the heart of the prevalence of the HIV-Aids pandemic is the callous attitude of those who have arrogated themselves the role of being the moral conscience of our nation, who elect to rubbish and demonise Zuma, rather than join him and strengthen the fight against this HIV-Aids.
Declaring one's status, particularly to one's partner, is an integral part of being faithful and is therefore not a departure from any government policy.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has clearly indicated that the campaign does not oblige anyone to disclose their status, but they can do so at their own free will.
Zuma chose to exercise his free will and provide leadership, and encourage others to follow suit. However, disclosure does not necessarily mean public disclosure, but can also mean disclosure to your partner and loved ones.
Having followed the reaction to Zuma's disclosure in the media, one is deeply perturbed by the extent of ignorance and denialism demonstrated by those who disagree with Zuma's choice to disclose.
It is then small wonder why so many of our people who live with HIV-Aids choose to die in silence, because our prejudices blind us to the reality that openness is the key to acceptance and social activism.
It must similarly never elude us that disclosure is a critical element of the government policy, anchored on the individual choice.
The problem of multiple infections and others getting infected unknowingly because their partners failed to disclose their status can only be addressed effectively if people are encouraged to disclose and are given the necessary support at community level when they have done so, not the scorn we witnessed in the aftermath of the president's declaration.
As a people, we must guard against cultivating a culture of double standards, where we demand that as part of being faithful, we must get tested and disclose our status to our partners, yet in the same breath we vilify Zuma for demonstrating leadership and political will to deal with the HIV-Aids pandemic.
We must all embrace Zuma's call and adopt lifestyles that ensure that when we get tested and our results come out negative, we remain that way.
This issue has nothing to do with Zuma's personal life, nor should it have anything to do with anybody's personal life who chooses to disclose their status.
This is a brave act, in the face of intense prejudices and ignorance that must be applauded and built on. Ours is to acknowledge the leadership he has provided and do our bit in fighting this cancer that is ravaging our young nation.
We are deeply appalled by the cynicism demonstrated, particularly by those who should be providing leadership and educating society. The vast masses of our people welcomed Zuma's gesture and acknowledged the leadership he has demonstrated in this regard.
We therefore expect of the intelligentsia, academics and opinion- makers to act responsibly and do the right thing, being to spread the right message and join the fight against HIV-Aids.
l Zizi Kodwa is the Presidential spokesperson