President Jacob Zuma has taken an HIV test but the result will not be made public, the presidency said on Thursday.
The test was timed to mark the implementation of the government's new policies on preventing and treating the disease, which took effect on April 1.
This includes a campaign to urge all South Africans to undergo testing, which was due to be formally launched next Thursday, but has been delayed because the president will be away on a working visit to Brazil and the United States.
Encourage the public to get tested
"I decided to take my test today, 8 April 2010. I am doing so to encourage as many South Africans as possible to do the same, as part of the build up to the public launch," Zuma said.
He reiterated a statement made on World Aids Day in December that though the government strongly encouraged testing, it believed the results were confidential.
"The HIV tests are voluntary and they are confidential. We know that it is not easy. It is a difficult decision to take. But it is a decision that must be taken by people from all walks of life, of all races, all social classes, and all positions in society. HIV does not discriminate."
Zuma knows his status
Zuma said the test was not his first. "I have taken HIV tests before, and I know my status. I will do another test soon as part of this new campaign. I urge you to start planning for your own tests."
He said South Africans must work together not only to fight the disease, but also the stigma that still clings to it.
"We must also address the problem of discrimination through lifting the silence and shame that is associated with the virus and the disease. We must all play our role to fight the epidemic."
Zuma's sex life under scrutiny
Zuma was widely ridiculed for saying in 2006, while he was on trial for allegedly raping an HIV-positive family friend, that he did not use a condom when he had sex with the woman but showered afterwards to minimise the risk of infection.
His sex life again came under intense scrutiny earlier this year when he admitted fathering an illegitimate child with the daughter of soccer tycoon Irvin Khoza.
Opposition parties charged that his marital infidelity and failure to practise safe sex had dealt a severe blow to the state's efforts to combat HIV.
Zuma's aides have confirmed that the president's decision to be tested was part of an attempt to mark a departure from the ambivalent Aids policies of the Mbeki administration.
In 2001, then President Thabo Mbeki said he would not take an HIV test because "I don't believe that stunts - publicity stunts - help in addressing the health needs of our people." - (Sapa, April 2010)