South Africa,

Since Garth Japhet founded Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication in 1992, he has successfully managed one of the world’s leading campaigns for public health education. Through its ground-breaking drama series, Soul City, Garth has educated and empowered viewers, and in his program Heartlines, he has established an initiative to promote positive values on a national level.

This profile below was prepared when Garth Japhet was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.


Since Garth Japhet founded Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication in 1992, he has successfully managed one of the world’s leading campaigns for public health education. Through its ground-breaking drama series, Soul City, Garth has educated and empowered viewers, and in his program Heartlines, he has established an initiative to promote positive values on a national level.


Garth is using mass media as a means of education, advocacy and the promotion of public health in South Africa. His first public health media organization, Soul City, has been incredibly successful, due primarily to its television and radio serial drama, which has been aired in thirty-eight countries. After witnessing the success of his pilot project, Garth expanded his idea to youths through the Soul Buddyz series, which has a viewership that reaches millions of children in South Africa. To date, countless people across Africa have taken part in Soul City’s training programs and participated with their community organizations promoting healthy living.

In 1996, Garth decided to build on the Soul City methodology, and expand his work beyond the scope of public health and development. Through his new media-based intervention, Heartlines, he drew upon his belief that South African society needed to sustain a national conversation around values. By focusing attention to this area, Garth believed he could promote integrity in such a way that had lasting, multifaceted effects on the fabric of society. For example, the factors that drive an individual’s dishonesty influence their relationships and how they interact with the world. By influencing personal behaviors in a positive way, Garth aimed to help quell the ongoing spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as that of crime and corruption and other major social issues.

After the first phase of Heartlines promoted a national conversation on values, the important question for Garth became, “How do you do you move beyond a dialogue on values to helping people act on these values?” This challenge led him to develop the “forgood” program to inspire and support thousands of ordinary South Africans to take positive action in meaningful ways, from caring for the sick, to paying their taxes, to being trustworthy in their relationships. This movement forgood is working to create a social “tipping point” that will have a profound effect on the major social issues facing South African society, including but not limited to, crime, corruption, HIV/AIDS, and family cohesion.


Along with the economic restrictions in place during apartheid in South Africa, black people faced severe social limitations and denigration that made it increasingly difficult for a democratic economy to emerge. The most serious of these injustices came from within the field of education. Apartheid education policy set back human capital creation more than a generation, proving to be the most serious of all economic constraints on the future expansion of South Africa’s economy. The policy of Bantu (African) education directed black and non-white youth to the unskilled labor market as the National Party viewed education as vital in their plan to create a completely segregated society. As a result, dilapidated school buildings, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate instruction, poor teacher training, and a lack of textbooks plagued African education to the detriment of student’s futures.

The government at the time made it clear that Bantu education was designed to teach African learners to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for a white-run economy and society, regardless of an individual’s abilities and aspirations. Consequently, the educational standards of black children fell rapidly as education was declared not compulsory, schoolbooks were made available at a fee (unlike the free books provided for white children) and the establishment of subject policies in languages, math, and science limited one’s career options. Not only did Bantu education deny black people access to the same educational opportunities and resources enjoyed by white South Africans, it also promoted myths and racial stereotypes through its curricula and textbooks. Enormous disparities grew between the education received by white and black children, often rooted in preferential funding and inherently discriminatory policies instituted on the state level.

The damage done by the Bantu education system has been far worse than South Africa’s school attendance and literacy figures suggest. According to the International Development Research Center, many students who claim to be literate are actually functionally illiterate for an industrial society, and many of those listed as attending school make little real progress over many years due to low attendance and pass rates.

The reality of this situation is made startlingly clear by the general lack of education and knowledge around basic health care and hygiene prevalent in South Africa. Often, children suffer from chronic and potentially serious conditions, such as diarrhea. While diarrhea is a highly treatable condition, many mothers did not know how to treat it, and often results in the death of their children. Education is particularly important in addressing this issue, especially as rates of HIV/AIDS continues to rise.

South Africa currently faces a myriad other challenges as a widely-diverse nation: A legacy of racial hostility, ongoing mistrust of other social, ethnic, and religious groups, high levels of poverty and unemployment, alarming rates of abuse against women and children, poor education, environmental degradation, and exceptionally high incidents of corruption and crime.


In 1994, the first Soul City series debuted on television and radio in South Africa. The drama resembled contemporary soap operas and was set in a community clinic in a densely populated, poor settlement. The television program was broadcast in half-hour episodes on CCV using bright colors, and a relatively simple video techniques to imitate the “soapies” that were popular at the time. This approach resonated with people, allowing for a similar radio program Garth developed to be broadcast on all nine of the SABC regional language radio stations, while eleven partner newspapers participated in advertising campaigns to keep the messages in the public domain.

With time, Garth diversified Soul City’s programs to ensure sustainability, and in 1997, the organization developed a parallel program aimed at children: The Soul Buddyz. After successfully reaching out to this new demographic, Garth sought to expand his ideas regionally. In 1999, Soul City began networking in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as a part of a five-year strategy to build capacity among the region’s health communications programs. In each nation, Soul City materials are adopted under the country’s own local brand and about one-third is targeted to reflect local customs, practices, and values. For example, in Swaziland, the programmes are distributed under the brand name Msweti. Other nations choose different names: Namibia’s program is called Desert Soul, in Malawi it is Pakachere, and in Zimbabwe, Action Pals. Broadcasting, however, is not always free, and is often paid for by Soul City’s US$34M regional program budget. The show is usually followed by a locally-produced documentary, news, or talk show program that address the same health issues covered in the drama. By 2006, Soul City IHDC employed fifty-five people in South Africa and sixty more through its regional program.

Through drama and entertainment Soul City reaches more than 30 million South Africans, successfully achieving many of its intended outcomes, including increased knowledge of antiretroviral therapy, care, treatment and support, increased positive attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS, increased numbers of people attending voluntary counselling and testing, as well as improvements in HIV prevention behaviors such as condom use. Soul City’s television, radio, and print programs have also been used in many non-African nations, including Papua New Guinea, Surinam, and Romania.

In 2002, Garth founded Heartlines with the belief that media can influence behavior most effectively by creating an environment supportive of change. With Heartlines, he sought to create a partnership between the media and the people actually working on the ground on particular issues. In the program’s first intervention, “8 weeks, 8 values, one national conversation,” they reached over 7.3 million people through a mass media campaign and mobilized over 60,000 faith leaders, faith-based organizations, and families. The success of this campaign illustrated that emphasizing the importance of values and action resonated across all sections of the South African population.

In the next two years, Heartlines will continue it’s mission, while also spearheading the forgood movement grounded in values-based action. In addition to creating a television miniseries, Heartlines will establish a “virtual movement” through a cell phone and web-based social network intended to provide a sense of community and common purpose. Garth is also partnering with and mobilizing faith-based organizations and institutions and groups to build momentum among youth to take action and make South Africa safer, healthier, greener, and more compassionate.

All in all, Garth has led Soul City through major expansions, navigating changes in the funding environment to ensure a steady influx of capital. The organization is supported in part by government departments, but remains largely dependent on international donors, including the European Union and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, as well as corporate sponsors such as British Petroleum and Old Mutual. Garth continues to use Soul City’s leveraging power as a means to promote policy improvements in their advocacy department.


Garth grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era and was urged by his family at a young age to understand the injustices in his society. Feeling that a medical career would be his best way of making his own effort to improve the health and development of his people and the continent, Garth studied medicine and became a doctor in 1987. Garth’s early experiences as a medical doctor based in KwaZulu-Natal often left him frustrated because of his inability to have any real impact on the problems facing South Africa.

Garth chose to use his medical training at the Alexandra Clinic, just north of Johannesburg. During this time, he realized that individuals need to have better access to information in order to truly improve their health and development and make more informed choices. At that point, Garth decided the most appropriate way to disseminate knowledge was through the media. Over the next two years, he persuaded The Sowetan, a popular newspaper in the black communities, to let him publish a weekly health column that made basic medical issues accessible to readers.

While the 1980s were a very difficult time for him to work in the public health sector, a time of civil strife, Garth persevered. At twenty-eight, he started Soul City and eventually Heartlines to restore the importance of positive values within South African culture.