Last week Members of Parliament showed a refreshingly positive face to their leadership when they took the fight against HIV/Aids to a new level by being tested with a few of them announcing their results. They were making a statement that we all need to know our status if we are to stand a chance of creating a new generation of people that are either living free of the virus or living victoriously with the virus.
The Zimbabwe Parliamentarians against Aids group should be commended for taking this public stand. Leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less, one thinker has argued before. It indeed is the role of our leaders to influence us in the direction that we should be taking. A total of 107 legislators, their spouses and Parliament staff came forward to undergo HIV counselling and testing at a clinic at Parliament Building on Wednesday. This was an overwhelming response.
In making their status known the MPs were also taking a step to fight the stigma associated with being HIV positive. Although those that came into the open probably did so because they had tested negative, they all the same have done a good thing.
What would, however, be a turning point is for those that tested positive to also publicly declare their results. Not all of them will be able to do so, but even one will make a huge impact. We have seen this in other fields, including journalism, where one person has publicly declared that he or she is living with HIV and this has helped to change our perception of the disease.
President Mugabe has repeatedly urged leaders to come into the open about their HIV status. He has said quite a number of Cabinet ministers have died of HIV/Aids over the years but none has openly spoken about it before their death.
Some of the MPs last week went a step further and were circumcised as a way of promoting circumcision as a method of reducing infection by HIV. At least 40 legislators were circumcised. This is quite a big number and speaks volumes about how effective this group of MPs is. It is widely accepted that circumcision, apart from preventing HIV infection, is important for personal hygiene among men. The perception of excruciating pain associated with it has been a deterrent. The MPs have gone a long way in shattering that myth. They have been circumcised and have declared that it can be done and should be done.
Now the challenge is to maintain the momentum. According to Population Services International Zimbabwe country director Louisa Norman, if 1,2 million men are circumcised by 2015, Zimbabwe can prevent an estimated 750 000 new infections. This shows that it is possible for Zimbabwe to dream about an HIV-free era in the not so distant future, if necessary preventative steps are taken. Male circumcision is quite clearly one of those measures. It is thought to provide 60 percent protection from HIV infection and reduces the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
It is possible to build on the momentum that has been generated by our legislators. This can be done by persuading other public figures to follow the footsteps of the political leaders and also take a public stand by being tested and circumcised. Musician Winky D has already taken a position as the pubic face of circumcision and we would want to believe that his message has been accepted by his youthful followers.
Our MPs have been able to mobilise themselves across party lines to be part of the fight against HIV/Aids, a sign that they can do so on any other issue they deem important. They can differ politically but still be able to act in the national and public interest.
Can we not then see others mobilising themselves as MPs Against Public Violence or MPs Against Domestic Violence. Or any other cause? The more they learn to work together on areas of agreement the more they will be able to tolerate each other in areas of disagreement. It is good to see some of our leaders channelling their energy to doing something that unifies our people instead of being merchants of division and strife.
They are also shaming those in their ranks who are still given to improper conduct. Only last week as some MPs were taking a public stand against HIV another legislator was being thrown out of the House of Assembly for throwing a newspaper at a fellow legislator.
MP Paul Madzore's conduct was akin to that of Zimbabwe's representatives to the Big Brother Africa Stargame who were also thrown out for brawling. His fellow MPs have redeemed the image of our legislators by publicly doing something that is praiseworthy. For one to be called an Honourable Member of Parliament one must ensure that their conduct is above reproach.
MPs shouldn't just be associated with allegations of abusing constituency development funds but with mobilising funds or using their own personal funds to develop their communities. As elections draw near, image is something every politician should be worried about. We believe that the time is coming when an aspiring MP will no longer be able to just ride on the popularity of his or her party. People will soon be assessing candidates on the basis of their leadership qualities.
Now that the two MDC formations have served in Government they can no longer consider themselves opposition parties. They are equally to blame for whatever shortcomings the Government has. The failure of the inclusive Government has been their failure and its success theirs too.
Voters should now ask more questions of the men and women they are putting into public office. The general conduct of some of those that have found their way into councils, the House of Assembly and the Senate has been disappointing and the next election should certainly usher in better leaders.
And those like the members of the Parliamentarians against HIV/Aids programme, who have selflessly worked for the people they lead stand a good chance of being re-elected.