Since a 2005 South African study found that male circumcision reduces the risk of transmitting HIV by 60% in cases of heterosexual sex, that war has been waged increasingly with tiny sets of forceps and scissors.
In Zimbabwe, where more than one in eight men under the age of 49 is HIV-positive, health organisations have recruited a new ally in their mission to circumcise as many Zimbabwean men as possible, thus limiting the virus’s spread.
Wallace Chirumiko is a reggae dancehall singer, one of the country’s most popular musicians.
He sings under the stage name — which all evidence suggests is completely separate from his current health campaign — of Winky D.
Circumcision, Winky D told Nehanda radio, is “one of the coolest moves you will ever make. I should know … I made that move”.
“That is why I am asking you to think about getting circumcised this school holiday.”
He supposedly added, in a statement that sounds suspiciously like it was written by a government publicist rather than, say, a young dancehall star, “Being cool is not just about having a string of hit songs.
“It is about taking care of yourself and looking after your health. It is about making sure you are presentable, smart and clean all the time.”
His hit Musarova Bigman was recently nominated for song of the year at Zimbabwe’s annual National Arts Merit Awards.
His announcement came as part of a national programme in Zimbabwe called “Be Smart, Get Circumcised,” or “Pinda Mu Smart” in Shona.
A similar programme in nearby Swaziland is only aiming for 160 000 men, or about a quarter of the male population.
Even if the Swaziland campaign is feasible, it’s difficult to see how Zimbabwe could triple their success rate.
Swaziland is physically tiny, crisscrossed by NGOs and aid groups, and receives substantial support from the US as well as neighbouring South Africa.
Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is politically isolated by the violent rule of President Robert Mugabe, whose 2008 persecution of political opponents before that year’s election alienated foreign governments and sent many NGOs fleeing.
If Winky D is going to help, then, he’s got a serious task ahead of him. The rapper, who calls himself “the poor people devotee,” has made service to his many beleaguered countrymen central to his public image.
In the Pinda Mu Smart effort, organisers say his contribution includes recording two songs in support of circumcision, which reportedly play occasionally on the radio in an effort to drive volunteers to the tents where procedures are performed for free.