I wasn’t sick at all when I found out about my HIV status. There was nothing wrong with me, just a small swollen lymph node at the back of my ear. The nurse told me that most people who had these lymph nodes were HIV-positive, so she asked if she could do an HIV test. “Let’s do it,” I said. After a week, I went back to the clinic and found out I was HIV-positive.
At that time there was no proper counseling, because the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) program wasn’t happening. I didn’t know much about HIV except that it kills, so the fact that I was still alive and feeling OK was confusing to me. I went straight home and told everyone about my status. My brother was shocked, and he told me, “We’ll support you, but don’t go around telling people you are HIV-positive, OK?” But as time went by I realized that it’s me who’s got HIV. If I want to tell someone that I am HIV-positive, I’m going to.
Discrimination starts with friends before you see it in the larger community, you understand? It can break you. People don’t want to associate with you, they gossip about you, and you end up being a loner. I wasn’t a loner. I had friends but unfortunately they passed away. I like to hang out with people and socialize—it makes me happy. But I don’t believe in friends now. That’s me.
A lot of people were dying in 2003. I counted myself among the people who would likely be buried that year, because I became very ill. I had TB and pneumonia and the hospital couldn’t diagnose me. I lost a lot of weight. Finally a friend sent me to a special HIV clinic. That’s what saved my life.
I grew up using traditional medicine. If I needed something for my stomach, Granny would prepare something. I wouldn’t just go to the shop and buy some medicine. If I were not HIV-positive, I believe I would still be using traditional medicine. But after studying HIV, the science of medication, and virology itself I came to understand why I have to take antiretrovirals. But I believe if traditional healers could be given a platform alongside Western researchers, a lot of good could come out of it.
I am especially fascinated by fire, which is important in traditional medicine ceremonies. There is a lot of good that comes from fire and a lot of sadness too. In that way, fire is like sex. People glorify sex as a sacred thing, because it creates life. But some people become HIV-positive from sex, like me. It’s both.
In terms of spirituality, I follow Rasta Livity. I believe that if we were to adopt Rasta Livity, all human beings would be great. I know people always associate Rastafarians with certain things. But I don’t have dreadlocks, I don’t smoke weed, and I still maintain the Rasta philosophy. Rastafarians respect nature. If everybody had this perspective, there wouldn’t be discrimination or stigma because everybody would respect humanity.
Having a daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. I named her Azania, or Mama Africa. I love her very much. She was born HIV-negative, and that has made me crazy with happiness. I just hope to see her finishing secondary school, finishing matric. I have HIV, anything could happen to me. But I wish I could wake up tomorrow and be told there’s a cure for HIV, for me to see my baby finishing school some day.