The glitterati of international showbusiness, including legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, Desperate Housewives' star Alfre Woodard and Pulp Fiction hero Samuel L Jackson travelled to the heart of Zululand this week to see for themselves the reality of HIV and Aids.
The celebrity visit was part of the American-based Artists For a New South Africa (ANSA) funding and support initiative, undertaken in partnership with the Aids Foundation of South Africa.
Since 1995, the celebrity group has raised and granted $8-million (R62-million).
A visibly moved Santana, who went to lengths to ensure that this was a "low-key" mission, said that to see this humanitarian crisis first hand was "hugely humbling".
"There is sadness, sure. But there is also such courage." Mexican-born Santana was captivated by the dancing and singing of schoolchildren, many of them Aids orphans. "Man, these are powerful sounds. They come from their soul. It's in their DNA," he said.
The group, which arrived in South Africa from New York, spent the first few days in Cape Town, visiting Robben Island and attending Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 75th birthday celebrations, before flying to KwaZulu-Natal.
For many, it was a first face-to-face experience with the stark realities of a disease that claims 900 lives in South Africa everyday, leaving behind hundreds of children with little or no support.
The focus of the visit was on Ingwavuma, in the interior of northern Zululand, where much of ANSA's funds have been spent. Here, about 40 percent of pregnant women are HIV-positive, 46 percent of households have no income at all and 57 percent of the population is under the age of 19.
Jackson and his wife, La Tanya Richardson, listened in silence as a young family related how they had buried their father under a pile of stones two days before and how their mother had left them to fend for themselves.
ANSA co-founder Woodard told stricken families that it was "an honor" to be invited to the area.
"We have learnt more about the humanitarian impact of HIV and Aids than we could have from 100 news reports. Back home we will be able to explain things so much better now that we have seen for ourselves where more funding is needed," she said.
Warm and delightfully friendly, she said the "light and hope" in people's eyes was stronger than the virus that had invaded their bodies.
This article was originally published on page 3 of The Mercury on October 11, 2006
Written by: Liz Clarke