Congratulations! WeTheBrave marks 3 years of changing gay, bi and MSM lives


The national WeTheBrave campaign is celebrating three years of improving the sexual health of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in South Africa.

Funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation, the project was launched on 26 June 2015, and went on to urge men to be #BraveEnough to make healthy sexual choices like wearing a condom, getting tested regularly and knowing their status.

The initiative broke new ground in South Africa through its cheeky and no-nonsense imagery and messaging, which celebrate gay, bi and MSM sexuality. This is often done through content – videos and articles on website and social media – that highlights the real lives and experiences of members of these communities.

Today, the campaign, in partnership with Health4Men, has been responsible for enabling over 490 000 men to be tested at MSM friendly clinics, giving over 12 000 men access to HIV treatment and having 33 bravely share their stories.

“We are incredibly proud of all we have achieved in such a short space of time. MSM are South Africa’s most at risk population for HIV acquisition and transmission,” notes Nina Morris Lee, Head of Marketing at the Anova Health Institute which is spearheading the campaign.

At Cape Town Pride

“We are so pleased with the strides we have made in changing behaviour to encourage responsible sex, reduce HIV transmission and promote health-seeking behaviour. Most importantly, however, we are thrilled to have made an impact on people’s lives.”

Monde Ngwane, a student who chairs a forum at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) College of Health Sciences, says that WeTheBrave has played a large part in enabling their advocacy work in the MSM community.

“A lot of people have now been enlightened about health tips, sexual safety and the resources available to them through, particularly because of the way that the information is packaged and distributed. This is changing the way that we, as a community, relate to and access information.”

Fellow UKZN student, Sthembiso Mkhize, first heard about the WeTheBrave campaign at an event held on campus. “They taught us about having safe sex, how to use condoms and how we could access medical services for our sexual health. Because of the way that they shared the information, I was able to listen properly and now I practice safe sex.”

Over the past three years, WeTheBrave has addressed HIV prevention and treatment issues in an affirming, non-judgemental and sex-positive way that is also entertaining and engaging. It, for example, teamed up with fashion designer Stiaan Louw to design a limited-edition range of underwear for a campaign called ‘Cover Your Butt’.

Cover Your Butt campaign with Stiaan Louw

This coincided with the announcement that PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medication has become available in South Africa. (If taken daily by HIV-negative individuals, PrEP can drastically reduce the chances of HIV infection.) The campaign brought to life the concept that HIV prevention could become as easy and routine as changing one’s underwear.

WeTheBrave has also sought to stamp out the stigma that still surrounds LGBT people – one of the major deterrents to HIV testing. “One of the most memorable events was the flighting of one of our ads featuring two men kissing after Carte Blanche one Sunday evening,” says Morris Lee. “Despite the backlash received, including complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, we were brave enough to stand up against stigma in the hope that others will too.” (The ASA ultimately ruled against the homophobes who complained.)

With South Africa’s LGBT community still facing discrimination, abuse and even violence, WeTheBrave has celebrated their bravery for being proud of who they are in spite of the challenges they face, by sponsoring Pride Festivals around the country, where many MSM have been tested for HIV.

The ad that caused all the trouble

In addition, over 30 MSM have bravely shared their stories on the campaign’s website and social media platforms, including Camille von Zuush, Miss Drag South Africa 2017. “They have so many innovative ideas about how to bring across their message and how to address different issues faced by the LGBT community,” she says.

Von Zuush explains that her decision to tell her story was because there are so many people who are still in the closet. “WeTheBrave lets you discover a community on your own terms and, when you’re ready, are there to support you.”

Singer Kallie (AKA Kellan) Kotze, who also shared his story and stance on the hate crimes happening in South Africa through WeTheBrave, says that after it was published he felt that he could freely be who he is and say what he feels.

“I have gained tremendous respect from industry experts, partly due to myself taking a stance and being brave!” He adds: “My story needed to be heard as there are so many teens going through what I went through and I wanted to emphasise the truth that everything will be okay. We’ve come a long way, but there is always room for improvements – tactless mind-sets and stereotyping must finally come to an end!”

A major coup for WeTheBrave was having music legend and AIDS activist Sir Elton John mentioning the campaign at the #AIDS2016 international conference. He also championed it in person by visiting one of the community clinics linked to the campaign, together with his husband, David Furnish and the Minister of Health, Aaron Mostoaldi.

Morris Lee believes that these accomplishments show that the campaign is well on its way to achieving its goals: Ensuring that MSM have the knowledge and opportunities to prevent new HIV infections; understand the benefits of regular HIV testing to know their status; use antiretroviral treatment when and if they need it; and take PrEP to reduce their chances of HIV infection if they are HIV-negative but at-risk. “We look forward to reaching and empowering many more men with this progressive and sex-positive campaign,” says Morris Lee.

For more information, visit or join the conversation on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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