The Provincial General Council (PGC) is one of the most important structures of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) at the provincial level. The PGC sits between the SADTU congresses and its structure is able to make decisions on policy issues including supporting the province’s MMC roll-out.
The Council consists of provincial office bearers, regional chairpersons and secretaries, and one delegate from each branch. One directive is that each branch should ensure that gender balance is upheld.
SADTU invited Sonke to present on medical male circumcision (MMC) in the province. This invitation, as explained by the provincial chair, is a follow up to the national Health Minister Hon. Motsoaledi’s presentation on MMC at the SADTU National General Council (NGC).
For us as Sonke the invitation came at right time as we were just coming out of talks with provincial health departments, PEPFAR, JHHESA, SACTWU and TB/HIV CARE in which we strategised on the MMC roll-out in province, as the Western Cape is performing badly on MMC.
The presentation was preceded by the singing of a traditional song – Somagwaza – which is normally sung when a boy is heading for initiation school. A SADTU member led the song and we joined in a jubilant mood.
The presentation was met with some scepticism as some members uphold traditional values that dictate that men and boys should be circumcised traditionally – not in a clinic. We were very strategic, saying the MMC forms part of men’s health, so it should seen from that perspective. We also shared concrete evidence of its effectiveness as an HIV prevention strategy. We called up SADTU members to support the National Strategic Plan for the prevention of HIV and AIDS. We explained the MMC process and shared our gender component messages and our promotion of continued use of condoms.
We gave a picture of the current Sonke initiative on MMC and expressed our appreciation for inviting us to this meeting as an indication of our ongoing partnership but also presented on the bleak state of the province in its roll-out plan.
During the Q and A session, a number of questions were raised around traditional male circumcision (TMC) and we were able to give convincing answers promoting MMC. We shared our concern about the safety of TMC and the mechanisms charged with regulating it, as a high number of initiates in the Eastern Cape lost their lives last winter. Forty-eight died and there were many casualties – a national concern!
We posed a question: is not the time to blend the two (MMC and TMC) to get the best of both? Is not the time to vigorously promote MMC as the solution to avoid unnecessary deaths?
A number of delegates from SADTU showed support for MMC and we were very clear to say we are committed in continuing deliberations and dialogue on the matter as we know that change is a process and it needs time. The MMC topic was even discussed at the commission (small group discussion that makes recommendations for the meeting) that took place during the evening session.
Ultimately, the chairperson came out in support of the initiative, as one of SADTU’s mandates is to promote MMC as an HIV prevention strategy.
SADTU committed to work with Sonke to promote MMC and has committed to a follow-up meeting in mid-October.