Johannesburg — Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron urged the youth of South Africa on Monday to find out more about HIV/Aids to keep themselves healthy.
She was speaking after meeting President Jacob Zuma in her capacity as a UNAIDS messenger of peace in Pretoria. UNAIDS is the joint United Nations programme on HIV/Aids.
"We are all here to support you. You are the future of this country and I am asking you to seize the opportunity to lead healthy and empowered lives," she told reporters at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.
"It's always very special for me to be able to come home and even more when I have a chance to lend my support to the youth of this country," said Theron, who wore a red, Aids ribbon.
Better known for glamorous red carpet moments and movie roles, Theron said South Africa had come far in its response to HIV, but too many girls were still falling through the cracks and should not be forgotten.
The stigma still associated with the virus in some quarters needed to be tackled. Every person had a right to the information they needed to keep themselves healthy.
They should be empowered enough to protect themselves whether or not they chose to be sexually active, she said.
Theron said she regarded a safe school environment and teachers and counsellors who were equipped to help as key in the response to HIV/Aids.
Theron was designated a United Nations messenger of peace, tasked with promoting efforts to end violence against women, in 2009.
One of her projects is the Africa Outreach Project which, according to the UN, provides funding for a mobile health and computer clinic which visits high schools in rural communities affected by HIV/Aids.
Zuma welcomed Theron -- "a good citizen" -- back home, and said the country was very proud of her.
"We have had a very good discussion, which we believe is going to give us a big push."
He lauded South Africa's success in increasing life expectancy, praising Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who was sitting near him.
"We have indeed made a big dent, a big success."
He said that even in his hometown of Nkandla, people could talk about HIV/Aids without fear.
UNAIDs executive director Michel Sedibe said a "sea change" in South Africa had come at a time when there was little hope regarding HIV/Aids.
"We have been discussing progress made in this country which is amazing," he said.
Motsoaledi said the national testing campaign of 2010 would be relaunched soon and he urged men to participate in greater numbers this time.
After the briefing, photographers clamoured for another quick photo opportunity with the star from Benoni.