SA kwaito star, songwriter and actor Howza (Tshepo Mosese) on Wednesday launched the music video for his latest song “I choose to live” about the impact of diabetes on the world and the importance of prevention. The hit video was launched in South Africa, Denmark and 21 other countries - just in time for World Diabetes Day on 14 November.
Howza, who has performed alongside the likes of Will Smith and Queen at the 46664 concert; and gained national fame on the local soaps “Generations” and “Backstage”, is a Changing Diabetes Youth Ambassador. Having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003, he is actively involved in educating the public and creating awareness about diabetes.
“As a youth ambassador for diabetes I talk regularly with many different people about diabetes and it has always been a good way of communicating and creating awareness. However, I have always felt the need to express myself in the way that I know best - through music. I’ve seen what music did for HIV/Aids, how it created awareness and reached millions. So, when the Diabetes Leadership Forum 2010 was held in Johannesburg, I thought this is my chance - the perfect platform to communicate a strong message through music on an international stage with speakers and journalists from all over the world,“ Howza explains.
Howza’s song “I choose to live”, performed with fellow artist Omen (Sabelo Mzizi) was an instant hit. It received such an immense response that global pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk decided to support Howza in driving his message forward.
"When Novo Nordisk offered their support, I was simply blown away. They are a pharmaceutical company - they’ve got nothing to do with music - but they could see the potential of creating diabetes awareness through music. The fact that they were willing to invest in this project is awesome," says Howza.
He has since been to Denmark to meet the key players at Novo Nordisk's head office in Copenhagen and to conduct interviews with the international media. He will return to Denmark this week to perform the song at the “Rock the Cure” concert, an event to create awareness of diabetes. “I’m so excited as I will be performing with an orchestra for the first time,” says Howza.
The recorded song includes the voices of the renowned Soweto Gospel Choir who also participated in the recent shooting of the video.
“Shooting the video in the streets of Joburg was great fun, even though we had some challenges,” says Howza. “It was tricky to find a day that could accommodate everyone and on the day the weather wasn’t on our side - we thought it was going to rain. It was also hard to get permission from the metro police to clear and use a street for the video. But, in the end it all worked out well and was a big success.”
Education and awareness around diabetes is close to the 27-year-old performer’s heart, who originates from Soweto. Despite the fact that his father lived with type 2 diabetes, Howza’s own symptoms were not recognised until he was in an extremely serious condition.
“When the initial symptoms of diabetes started hitting me,” says Howza, “neither me, nor my parents thought it could have been the cause, since we thought that diabetes was something that only happened to older or obese people. I was really shocked when I found out the truth. It was a hard wake-up call. I was just so ignorant about it all before.
“This is why awareness and education is so important," Howza continues,"this disease can affect people of any age, any race and any sex, but it can be prevented and managed.”
Type 1 diabetes
Whereas type 2 diabetes is often the result of a sedentary Western lifestyle (too many processed foods, too little exercise and a tendency to be overweight or obese), type 1 diabetes seems to have a genetic basis - it develops when the cells that produce insulin are destroyed by the individual’s own immune system. People with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin injections on a daily basis, whereas it is possible for people with type 2 diabetes to manage it by losing weight, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
When first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Howza had to take some drastic changes in his life.
“I was leading a very unhealthy lifestyle and my diagnosis forced to make some big changes. One of the biggest things that I did was to give up alcohol completely. Given my personality, it was better to quit, as I knew I wouldn’t have been able to drink alcohol moderately.”
Howza also admits that he initially was ashamed about his diabetes. “I hated having to inject myself with insulin in public. Being in the public eye as a performer and actor, made it even more difficult for me! The media are always on the look-out for a new story, and I worried that if they saw me injecting myself, they would think I was using drugs,” he says.
“However, I then reached a point where I decided ‘this is nonsense’. It’s not about them, it’s about me. I must take responsibility for my own health and I can use my diabetes to spread the message and help other people.”
Howza, who currently presents SABC 1’s Christian lifestyle programme Big Up, also believes that his diabetes is God’s way to help him make a difference in the world: “I’m very spiritual and I believe that this was a way of God to prepare me for something big, so that I can really make a difference in this world by helping to create awareness and to save lives.”
“It is my aim to inform people about this disease, which is one of the number one killers in the world,” he continues. “I can make a difference in people’s lives by improving awareness about the disease and also informing people about healthy living.”
Breaking down stereotypes
It is of great importance to Howza to breakdown stereotypes around diabetes and to relay a positive message to young people living in various communities.
“Diabetes can be especially difficult for the youth, because they don't like to be 'different',” says Howza. “However, there really is no need to be ashamed. Stand up for yourself and instead of trying to hide it, spread the message about diabetes, educated your family and friends about it. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool. The more people learn about diabetes and that it can happen to anyone, the better. Together we can save lives.”
Howza would like to see more publicity around diabetes. “The HIV/Aids PR was amazing. There is not one person who does not know about HIV/Aids today. People have started to talk about it and there are many events and concerts to raise awareness. We should do the same with diabetes. Yes, people go to concerts to see their favourite stars perform, but if there are banners that convey important messages about diabetes, for example the shocking stats, the fans will take that message home with them.”
"I want to use my spot in the public eye to do something good, to make a change. The more I can do, the better,” says Howza. “I don’t want to be a youth ambassador just by name. I want to be actively involved and make a difference. I want people to look back and say this is what Howza did to change diabetes in the world,” he concludes.
Find out more by liking the “I Choose To Live” Facebook page and following “I choose to live” on Twitter (@ichoose2live).
Make sure that you are aware and help Howza spread the word about the "silent killer"!
To learn more about diabetes visit Health24’s Diabetes Condition Centre or the websites of Diabetes South Africa (www.diabetessa.co.za) and the International Diabetes Federation (www.idf.org)
- (Health24, November 2010)