Phindile Sithole-Spong

Founder, Rebranding HIV

At just 24, Phindile Sithole-Spong is the founder of Rebranding HIV, a consultancy and media strategy company that helps organisations and companies with HIV and sexual health programmes, campaigns and other related tools.

Sithole-Spong works to create an HIV brand that is both easy to relate to and which takes into consideration the target audience’s social, economic, religious and educational realities and help build an HIV and Aids aware generation.

As a result of her activism, she has spoken at many conferences, congresses and workshops across Africa, including Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Uganda and Ghana, as well a few flips beyond the continent, to places like Washington DC.

This peripatetic life was born of personal misfortune. Sithole-Spong grew up in Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg. She was adopted at the age of 13 by a woman who taught her to be open-minded and self-assured.

At 19, she became ill and spent three months in hospital. Her CD4 count was just two – she had developed full-blown Aids. Digging into her biological family history, it seemed that Sithole-Spong had been infected at birth.

She went on to do media studies and English at the University of Cape Town. At first she concealed her status, but, she says, “I got tired of lying all the time,” and she told a few friends. “My activism started around then.”

A chance encounter with a woman’s magazine, which led to the publication of an article, made her a public figure and gave her a platform to develop an idea she’d had at a talk on branding.

“HIV wasn’t a good brand, and I started to think how to change the branding so people could relate to it and see HIV in a new way.” Since then, Sithole-Spong has worked with organisations ranging from the Ford Foundation to Eskom, and this dynamic young woman has only begun to make her mark on South Africa and Africa. — Mandi Smallhorne