During our trip to South Africa, our CEO Daniel Nagel had the opportunity to speak with German Ambassador Martin Schäfer about the role of the youth in the fight against HIV and AIDS. In Petroia, they also focused on our global initiative AIDS2018, which aims to mobilize volunteers for the World AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
Mr. Schäfer, how do you become an ambassador and what are your tasks?
You become an ambassador by getting chosen from the Federal Government. Therefore, you should have worked for many years, in my case over two decades, in the Foreign Service, for which you have to apply after completing university. As ambassador, I am the representative of the Federal Republic of Germany in South Africa and the two kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho. My job is to accompany, design and organize the relationship between Germany and South Africa. In a sense, I am the person to talk to for all contacts between the two governments.
We at YAA are mainly concerned with education in the context of HIV and AIDS. Is this also an important topic for you as ambassador?
I spent a few years here a long time ago and worked at the embassy. At that time, there was a big fear that HIV and AIDS could cause a disaster in southern Africa. In the sense of the downfall of an entire society or a whole culture. Back then, people were not sure that the modern medicine that exists could actually prevent the disease from developing. In South Africa, about 50 percent of young men and women were infected. The idea that these young people would all die over a period of ten to fifteen years was a complete disaster. Therefore, medical progress, and also the willingness to make the African government provide the medicines free of charge to all those who want them, is a great step forward. For today, HIV and AIDS are still a huge problem, but it no longer has the catastrophic dimensions that it had a few years ago.
What focus would you put on prevention? Who is the target audience where you could reach the most?
In South Africa there are different power relations between men and women. There are those who are oppressed and those who oppress. If you want to change behaviors you have to try to empower the oppressed to defend themselves. That’s one of our priorities. But of course, it’s also about making it clear to those who exercise power or physical violence that what they are doing is wrong and not fun. But with regard to HIV and AIDS can be deadly serious. My feeling tells me: one should not let it slip away, to advertise that there are fair, equal relations between men and women. That sexual intercourse is something one does voluntarily and for fun, and that violence in such a relationship is absolutely wrong.
Is there a special experience that you still remember when it comes to HIV / AIDS or education?
I went to the USA as an exchange student in 1983 – 35 years ago – and spent a year in California with a host family. This was exactly the period when AIDS broke out and the first news came up about a disease that was essentially afflicted by gay men. I remember well that among those who were chosen to go to the US as exchange students, we discussed “what’s that disease, where did it come from?” And everyone had their speculations and rumors and claims. That was a totally confusing mess. I’m glad that there is now – one and a half generations later – much more knowledge about this disease. And I also believe that we have made great strides in overcoming the stigmata and prejudices. Like “It’s just for gays, only poor people get it” and so on. Nevertheless, it remains a disease that still costs the lives of several 100,000 people a year here in South Africa. Therefore, we must not stop doing what is necessary to prevent it from spreading. That’s why I appreciate the work you’re doing. Everything we can do to support you, we will do.
Do what you want. Do it with love, respect and condoms.
This post was written by Jugend gegen AIDS Blog