Circus concert to tackle HIV stigma


zip-zap---textYoungsters take part in Zip Zap’s Ubuntu Outreach Project. (Image: Zip Zap)

The stigma attached to HIV/Aids, the need for condoms to be available in schools and targeted interventions and treatment programmes for HIV-positive youth are at the heart of a talent showcase planned for World Aids Day.

The Zip Zap Circus School, along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the City of Cape Town, is hosting a free concert promoting the use of condom and adherence to antiretroviral treatment on 1 December at the OR Tambo Hall in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. It is called Stigma, because there are still negative connotations attached to HIV/Aids, which arouses fears in people who are not educated about the virus.

Performers come from Zip Zap’s development programmes, Ubuntu and Ibhongolwethu, as well as from Ikapa Dance, MAC Substance and Ubuntu Boys.

According to UNAids, there are about 6 million HIV-positive people in South Africa, and about 2.5 million are receiving HIV treatment, making the country’s public HIV treatment programme the largest in the world.


Zip Zap has been teaching HIV-positive youth circus acts since 2005 through its outreach programme, and in partnership with Cirque du Monde, the social circus programme of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil.

Its Ubuntu programme takes place every Wednesday outside the Ubuntu clinic in Khayelitsha. Children from as young as four years old queue at the clinic to collect their antiretrovirals (ARVs), chronic medication that slows down the progression of the virus and prolongs life.

Ruth Henwood, the child and youth patient support manager at MSF, says: “Thirteen years ago MSF pioneered ARV treatment in Khayelitsha. This ARV treatment programme has since become a beacon of hope and inspiration. Thanks to the Zip Zap Circus School, dreaded clinic visits have been transformed into thrilling adventures that children and even their parents don’t want to miss.”

The school uses circus arts to develop young people who are HIV-positive by giving them access to opportunities and skills that will help them grow into young leaders and ambassadors for South Africa. Laurence Estève, Zip Zap Circus School co-founder and director, explains: “We’ve seen that the children who participate in the Ubuntu programme have increased self-esteem, a greater appreciation of teamwork, discipline and physical fitness.”

Once they have been through the Ubuntu programme, they can join Zip Zap’s Ibhongolwethu project. It further nurtures young circus talent, paving the way for a potential career in circus performance. According to Zip Zap, Ibhongolwethu means “our pride”. It is supported by MSF and Cirque du Monde.

“We believe in the power of performance that can break down barriers. When the youngsters get on stage to perform they change from being victims to heroes,” says Estève.


About 3 000 youngsters are expected at the concert. TAC will distribute male and female underwear bearing sexually positive slogans such as “No Condom No Access”.

The organisation’s Amelia Mfiki says: “This event is a call to make condoms acceptable and accessible for young people and to encourage HIV-positive youth to stay on treatment for life. We also want to encourage those HIV-positive youth who have stopped treatment to return to the clinic before it is too late.

“When it comes to ARVs, we need to educate people that they are just the same as any other chronic medication that must be taken daily. We need to empower and support young people living with HIV to continue to take their ARVs.”

Making condoms available at schools, she adds, does not mean that TAC advocates sexual promiscuity; but this will enable young people to protect themselves from HIV. “Only an empowered and informed young person can demand condom usage.”