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Music, Mandela and MTV Carry AIDS Message to Young

The MTV pop channel is using its global reach, the sparkle of its stars and the moral authority of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to send a message of AIDS awareness and tolerance to young people worldwide.

Video footage from a Cape Town concert Saturday featuring stars Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Alicia Keys will be combined with an earlier concert in Seattle to produce a 90-minute program, likely to reach up to two billion people around the world, MTV executive Bill Roedy told Reuters Friday.

The Cape Town concert – which the stars will be performing for free – and the “Staying Alive” special, due for broadcast on World Aids Day, December 1, will feature a hard-hitting segment with former South African President Mandela, who endured 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid beliefs.

“Mandela will introduce a young rape victim who is now HIV positive and they will talk about the discrimination she has had to endure because of it. It’s a very tough message,” Roedy said.

Mandela, who admits he still finds it difficult to say the word “condom” in public, has become a leading AIDS awareness campaigner in South Africa, the world’s worst affected country.

At least one in nine South Africans, or about 4.8 million people, is suffering from the disease or infected with the HIV virus that causes it. Researchers say up to seven million people could die of AIDS-related illness by 2010.

MTV is working closely with South Africa’s leading AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), to make sure the twin messages of awareness and tolerance get across.

“This is an awareness event, it’s not a fundraising event,” said TAC activist Vuyiseka Dubula.

She said more than 100 people living with HIV/AIDs would be at the concert with their now familiar red and white “HIV Positive” t-shirts.


Dubula said South African activists were excited about the project because MTV and the stars it features can get through to pre-teen and teenage fans very effectively.

“Most young people identify with people like Alicia Keys and P. Diddy. They won’t listen to the president or the minister of health in the same way,” she said.

President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have been at loggerheads with AIDS activists for over two years over the government’s refusal to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs in state clinics.

World Bank Managing Director Mamphele Ramphele, herself a South African, said during a visit home Thursday the country’s AIDS policy “makes you shudder.”

Roedy said the concert, sponsored by computer billionaireBill Gates through his private foundation and Levi Strauss jeans, was costing more than a million dollars to produce, despite the artists performing for free.

“You stand the best possible chance of getting the message across with these role models.

“It can’t be done in a preachy way or an authoritarian way, it has to relate to the people, but communication on this issue is crucial,” he said.

About 25,000 people are expected at the concert in a small inner-city soccer stadium close to the Cape Town beachfront.

Roedy said the MTV broadcast would have a potential audience of a billion viewers and the program would be offered free to any other broadcaster in the world, pushing the potential audience to around two billion.

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