Hitting the airwaves just in time for 16 Days of Activism and World AIDS Day, Mahlabathe Speaks is a 13-part serial radio drama highlighting how HIV/AIDS and Gender Based Violence (GBV) are linked, in a way that is entertaining and understandable to the mostly rural target audiences. The drama is being aired across South Africa, with listening groups in four provinces: Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Free State, though the drama is free to air to any station.
Produced by Community Media for Development Productions for People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) Mahlabathe Speaks uses edutainment to talk about the importance of eliminating gender based violence and the spread of HIV. The drama follows the story of Lerato, a young woman who is scared and running. A city girl through and through, she finds herself in the middle of a rural village confronting new situations and ideas.
While at first she just wants to finish her work and go home, she finds herself remembering and celebrating her culture, and falling for the local community radio station presenter. But what is she running from? Her newfound friends Ntom’entle and Busisiwe have their own problems. Living with HIV, Ntom’entle’s disclosure results in violence from her husband and family, while Busisiwe finds her voice to speak out on what she thinks is right.
In South Africa violence against women has reached epidemic proportions, one of the highest rates in the world of countries collecting such data. It exists in millions of households, in every community, in every institution, in both public and private spaces.
“Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) cuts across race, class, ethnicity, religion and geographic location,” says Nonhlanhla Sibanda of POWA. “This radio drama, supported by listening groups, community-based activities, and media engagement, is being produced to encourage a deeper awareness and understanding of the intersections between GBV and HIV, get people talking, and encourage people to change their attitudes and actions.”
The drama package also includes a guide for radio presenters to help them create stories and reports around the issues, host discussions, ask questions, and present accurate facts. As part of 16 days of activism activities, community radio stations will be broadcasting the drama, as well as inviting guests and listeners to discuss the rights issues it raises.
“The drama is entertaining and easy to comprehend, local languages were used to ensure the message reaches audiences in each of the target provinces,” says Cindy Dzanya, project coordinator from CMFD Productions.
However, South Africa has solid legal protections for women, at least on paper. This includes both national legislation and being signatory to international and regional commitments protecting women’s rights. South Africa was one of the first to sign the 2003 African Union (AU) Protocol on Women’s Rights, a continent-wide legal framework that came into force in 2005, which commits all signatories to protecting a whole range of women’s rights – including reproductive health, property and inheritance rights, and freedom from gender violence, to name just a few.
However, like in most of Africa, the reality on the ground is much different. Along with high rates of domestic and sexual violence, women also experience higher rates of HIV and AIDS; culture and society continue to undermine women’s progress; and gender inequalities affect everyday life and opportunities. Asked following the voicing of the drama whether it reflect real issues and problems in South Africa, one actor responded “Yes it does because it’s relevant and its issues that people go through every day. It’s mostly things that people are afraid to talk about.”
There are problems with availability and access to services, of poor implementation, and of traditions of inequality that are hard to break. However, even in this era of multi-media overload, Facebook, Twitter, and the internet, there still is a lack of awareness and dialogue about women’s rights, and where to go for help. The drama’s core theme is about speaking out, and talking about issues of gender violence and HIV, to come up with solution and ideas for prevention and care.
At the heart of the drama is encouraging especially women to speak out. The drama’s original theme music, produced by Daniel Walter for Sigauque Project, is also a call to women and girls to speak out. As the Mahlabathe Speaks tag line says, when women’s voices are raised, things will never be the same again.