Scrutinize!!!! Tebogo is free

Taung FET College is abuzz with activity on the morning of 25 April 2011, and the young people in red aprons catch Tebogo's attention.

The Scrutinize campaign has partnered with the Department of Health to assist the Minister of Health's ambitious bid to test 15-million South Africans by June 2011, including young people at schools and universities. '"Where they are, we will go and get them tested," are Dr Aaron Motsoaledi's famous words.

On the same morning of 25 April 2011, when nurses were wrapping up their week-long visit to the college, Tebogo again awakes in the room of one of his many "friends with benefits". That is how he refers to and thinks about his sexual partners, as he has no plans to commit to anyone. He ignores the call for students to go into the small hall, as he knows what they are going to say: "Get tested for you to get the help and treatment, and not to infect others."

The thought of that makes him want to remain in his room until it is all over. Nevertheless, he walks into the hall - ignoring the activities - to see if he can score a T-shirt.

Spetho, a facilitator from DramAide, "ambushes" Tebogo. Spetho's approach is to not preach to the students but rather to ask them to create and defend their own scenarios, using ambush theatre techniques. Tebogo is asked to play the role of a person being convinced by his new partner to test for HIV.

The role exposes Tebogo's own life where he refuses to test, as he believes that HIV is the fate of all young people and nobody escapes it. He says that with so much conviction that he almost convinces his new partner and the growing crowd, who now surround him and Spetho.

After the session, Tebogo walks towards the Mothusimpilo mobile testing station and stands in the queue with his friends. Some are current friends, others are potential "friends with benefits". There are only a few people in front of him but the wait feels like an eternity. He disappears into the testing vehicle and then, like lightning, he emerges with a somersault that turns into six, then seven, then eight wheelies.

Tebogo (25), who has had over 40 sexual partners, has just tested negative for HIV. You would think his excitement is because he has escaped the virus, but it is really because he is finally free from the feelings of despair, and fatalism, that so many of the young people from Taung feel. Tebogo can finally plan for his future. And that is not a future with alcohol, many sexual partners, unprotected sex or a tragic AIDS-related death.

Tebogo still wants to know how Spetho, with the little funny-looking apron, got him to think about his status, and how he was going to keep it that way. "There is a way, right?" thinks Tebogo as he saunters off to his next lecture.

About Scrutinize

Scrutinize is a public health campaign which encourages the Youth to "scrutinize" or understand their risk of HIV infection in relation to multiple concurrent partners, correct and consistent condom use, transactional sex (sex for money), intergenerational sex (sugar daddies) and alcohol use.

Scrutinize is a national campaign being undertaken by the JHU Program in South Africa and funded by USAID/PEPFAR.