98 days to go, but will Zuma and Brown discuss other pressing matters?

Speaking on 5 Live this morning – one BBC radio station that’s safe from the axe at the moment – Mike Wooldridge discussed President Jacob Zuma’s “action-packed” state visit to the UK – his first since assuming presidency in South Africa last year.   Breakfast’s Shelagh Fogarty described Zuma as a ‘controversial figure’ whose personal life has overshadowed much of his political life in the media.  

It’s certainly true that the media has so far preferred to focus on the numerous children and wives of the President rather than the political challenges which face President Zuma and his government: in particular the country’s high levels of HIV and AIDS, unemployment amongst young South Africans, as well as endemic poverty and gender and racially-based inequality.

Wooldridge pointed out that Zuma intended to raise these issues while here in the UK – particularly that of unemployment and of course sport in advance of the World Cup. But so far, the media has focused on Mr Zuma’s call for an end to sanctions upon Zimbabwe and his passing reference to the UK’s colonial history.  

I hope that during his visit President Zuma will take the opportunity to seek UK support in striving to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS across South Africa, and other salient issues.

Women are disproportionately affected by HIV across South Africa. In fact young women aged between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts and women aged between 20 and 34 are the most ‘at risk’ group in South Africa.

Since 2008 Amnesty has been campaigning to promote and protect the rights of women at risk of or living with HIV, particularly those living in poverty in rural areas of South Africa.

The battle against HIV and AIDS cannot be won without a focus on this marginalised group of women. President Zuma can only successfully reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS by ensuring that this group is included.  

The UK government can play a significant role in helping to tackle this challenge.  In the past it has also said that it’s important to ensure that the most socially and economically marginalised are targeted when it comes to reducing the rate of HIV.   Given that it has positioned itself as a leader in providing donor support to South Africa as it’s the largest bilateral donor of aid to the South African government after the US, it has a real opportunity to influence the South African government to include the poorest in its HIV and AIDS prevention policy.

There’s a lot more which could be discussed between Zuma and Brown this week – note Dan McDougall’s compelling Panorama report on Monday.   And of course, if the two state leaders find themselves at a loss for conversation, there’s always the topic of football.   98 days and counting…

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