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Zulu’s phrase Zwakala means “come on over” and is often shared with friends as an invitation. South Africa’s immunization campaign is now centered around “Zwakala”.

This campaign provides not only COVID-19 shots to people, but also vital vaccines for children against diseases such as polio and measles.

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The organizers of the initiative realized that many children were not vaccinated during the pandemic and are now working to make up the difference.

Siyanda Serwalo, a Johannesburg nurse, is passionate about children’s health. She is one of the #Zwakala healthcare workers and has been volunteering at the Ivory Park community’s pop-up vaccination station. It is located just north of Johannesburg.

“Fundamentally, a nation can only be built upon children.” Serwalo believes that healthy children make productive and healthy adults.

Serwalo personally witnessed a decline in routine immunizations during the pandemic. “I’ve seen a lot more mothers who haven’t taken their child to the clinic regularly,” he said. This [the campaign] should help to increase immunization coverage both in the country as well as in the region.

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Serwalo’s team provides routine immunizations for children, and also gives COVID-19 vaccines out to people over 12 years old. The #Zwakala campaign is promoting the message in the media and going door to door. It aims to inform young South African adults, who may be hesitant, about the safety and availability of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Ivory Park is an area where the vaccination rate remains relatively low. It is home to many immigrants from various parts of Africa. The campaign offers vaccines to all, regardless of their South African citizenship.

Bafana Chabalala (17 years old) works as a door to door mobilizer. He believes it is vital that vaccines be available to all. “In Ivory Park, we have many people and many are not from here. He notes that some are from Mozambique and other countries near our border. “That’s why we don’t care if they don’t have an identification document or a passport. It’s also free.

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Bafana and other mobilizers are well-known within the community. They’re friendly, familiar faces. Campaign success is dependent on the ability to connect with people on their terms. This is reflected in the expression “Zwakala”, which can be used to invite a friend to spend time with us.

WE South Africa has been working closely with local organizations in order to launch the campaign. Wendy Kumalo is a Community Media Trust worker and was impressed by the instant impact.

People loved the brand and trusted it. More people were vaccinated.

Zwakala isn’t just for Ivory Park. Kwa-Mashu, and Ntuzuma are also part of the Zwakala campaign. They are located just outside Durban, on South Africa’s Eastern Coast.

These communities are also areas where COVID-19 vaccination uptake is low. To raise awareness, campaign ads are shown on local televisions and on social media. The message is being broadcast on local radio, which is the most accessible medium to reach the majority of South Africans.

Campaign workers will distribute leaflets and posters to inform the community about the dates and times that they can receive their vaccines. They will also answer any questions that community members may have about the vaccines.

The Zwakala pickup truck is the perfect addition to the campaign. The truck is mounted with a sign encouraging people to get the COVID-19 vaccination. To draw attention, the speakers play electronic and Zulu folk music as it travels through the community. Between songs, a campaign worker uses a microphone to deliver a clear message: “Zwakala!” Zwakala! Zwakala!”

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The campaign’s eclectic approach has helped to raise spirits and increase vaccination rates in these small towns. After seeing the pickup truck, Neliswa Mnana brought her 6-month-old son Phatu to the clinic. Phatu received the routine immunizations that he needed to stay safe and protected.

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