Sunday, September 20, 2020

Is HIV metaphorically justified?

Re-introducing metaphors in HIV issues, is it the correct way to go? I seriously thought we had moved away from comparing the genitalia to some edible things. I wonder whether the use of controversial metaphors in the visionary effort to build a healthy, informed and educated nation is a comprehensible approach. Health experts continue to challenge us to ‘say it as it is’ when it comes to HIV to avoid mixed views. We have to be on the same understanding of reality. HIV prevention and control campaign is a mammoth task that must be well addressed.

My voicing on this is prompted by the news I heard on Duma FM news (16 March 2012) that; the BNYC defended its use of a peeled banana picture in an advertisement “to encourage safer circumcision of young males”. The BNYC official said it was a metaphor and a language understood by the youth. This matter raises an influx of questions. What research really informed the BNYC that the youth understanding of metaphorical language? How well vested is the BNYC on language use and society?

Isn’t the BNYC aware of the existing misconception by some that circumcision is the license to unprotected sex? Can we accept the peeled banana advert based on assumptions rather than the search for facts? Has the BNYC unraveled some verification to the effect that the nation has now achieved a full grasp on HIV issues?

The principal question is that: are we not taking society back to that line of thinking along the di-sweets concept by the use of the banana concept/ metaphor? Years ago local health experts were circumstantially forced to quickly quash and ask people to rest the metaphorical expression of ga o kake wa ja sweet e phutlhetswe, an idea that translates to that one cannot eat a wrapped sweet. At around the same time language use in HIV/AIDS issues was critically scrutinized and we witnessed the sudden alteration of the word dikausu to dikhondomo, a duplicate of the coined term “condoms”.

Then followed the Tsaya kgato / tshwetso tagline. A Permanent Secretary and some speakers at a workshop criticized it logically arguing that a decision can either be positive or negative hence the choice of the words kgato or tshwetso “decision or choice” were not suitable for a tagline with regard to HIV. The question that raised eyebrows was that; what if one makes the decision to commit suicide?

The reason to tread carefully on metaphors is brought about by indications that when a particular view about a concept is misguided, it tends to be widespread. In its surfacing people debate it. Consequently mixed views (positive and negative) erupt. Some people adopt the negative form given the fact that people in society differ. They will never be the same not only in educational levels and understanding, but also in opinions, values and beliefs. Botswana has such figurative expressions and comparisons that ended up being accepted by the population. The idiomatic / proverbial expression; monna selepe oa adimanwa / hapaanelwa is a typical example. There are two versions I have heard. There is the traditional view which I will explain as according to what one elderly man said to be its origin. He emphasized that in the past families borrowed items from one another and the axe was one of the objects. He said that it is about the role of the man in the traditional family system, particularly the senior male relatives. The norm was that in a female-headed household whenever there was a problem to solve which demanded the presence and voice of a male figure, he would be called from his home to attend to the matter in that other household. For instance, to discipline or counsel a misbehaving male child. Nowadays the expression has semantically shifted to a sexual connotation as it is taken to imply that a man is a free being exchangeable for an affair. Research can further investigate where this emanates from. It is probable that a commonly quoted author might have erred on the interpretation not informed by research? applying his / her own thinking in relation to bonyatsi or the author adopting it from some section of the society which might have just changed the meaning under whatever phenomena.

The sweets concept surfaced during the condom campaign. It was a challenge for health stakeholders to address it, because mindset change is not an easy task. The realization was that sweets metaphor was simultaneously dangerous with HIV. Some people were misled as they seriously believed that condoms tempered with sexual pleasure. The peeled banana metaphor is not far from that of sweets. Why bring back metaphors when all they do is spark controversy?

The BNYC should do thorough research and engage different stakeholders before rushing to decisions. Ill-conceived interpretations of metaphors spread like veld fires and reversing the damage is not as easy as they would assume. They should not just defend their assumptions on tackling HIV-related campaigns without looking at the broader picture of scenarios.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.