Feature story

King Goodwill Zwelethini commended on his visionary response to HIV in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

30 September 2011

UNAIDS Executive Director, Mr. Michel Sidibé (right) receives a token from His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelethini.
Credit: UNAIDS/A.Debiky

During his seven-day visit to South Africa, the UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé had the opportunity to meet His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelethini, in his home province of Kwazulu Natal.

The King is a key figure in the response to HIV in the Province, home to the Zulu nation. In what was lauded as a bold move, in mid-2009 the King called for Zulu men and boys to undergo medical male circumcision (MMC) in a bid to protect themselves against HIV. Studies have shown that MMC can reduce the sexual transmission of HIV by approximately 60%.

At the time of the King’s announcement it was mainly Xhosa, Sotho, Ndebele and Shangaan people who underwent traditional circumcision as part of a boy’s initiation into manhood.

Traditional circumcision among Zulu men was banned in the time of King Shaka.

The health of the nation can only improve if we create a permanent, unified front against the epidemic

His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelethini

However, now over two centuries later the current King of the Zulus has revived the practice of circumcision to try to save the lives of his people. The King’s decision was motivated by the disproportionate impact of HIV on the Zulu people.

Mr Sidibé commended the King on his vision and leadership around HIV, particularly on male medical circumcision and on his continued personal engagement in the response to HIV.

Thanking Mr Sidibé for his support to South Africa’s AIDS response and calling for the need for strong partnerships the King said, “The health of the nation can only improve if we create a permanent, unified front against the epidemic…..I am on the winning side but without support of the outside world I cannot win this war.”