I live in SOWETO and realise that in my township many people still face stigmatisation when they reveal they are HIV positive. People still gossip on street corners about those they think are HIV positive or those they believe are sick because of diseases related to Aids. I believe this stigmatisation is what leads to many Aids deaths in South Africa today despite the free availability of anti-retroviral treatment in government hospitals. These drugs even enable mothers to give birth to HIV negative babies.
Recently while reading the newspapers I saw a close friend, Nompumelelo Nobiva, who probably thought her life will be that of struggle when both her parents died of Aids when she was young. The story was on how she is now in Matric at the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls and is preparing for university. It just goes to show that those affected by the disease can go on to live happy lives even after losing loved ones to Aids. No child wants to see parents parish, that’s not what nature intended, but it happens and it’s the courage of people like Nompumelelo that shows that the many battles created by the disease in South Africa shouldn’t mean the end of living a long, prosperous life.
As a South African who was born in a township in the 1990s I could never escape the reality of HIV and Aids. The disease has been around me all my life – we would see adults going to funerals every weekend, we would hear Love Life messages on radio and people were constantly talking about it. President Thabo Mbeki went through a period of denial, but the government is getting things right now and yet many young people still die.
Earlier this year, while visiting the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Health Minister – Dr Aaron Motswaledi – expessed worry at the huge number of young women who die at what he called “their prime”. He said some don’t live to the age of 30 and statistics of those between 15 and 30 are alarming. He even went as far as to say TB cases in South Africa should be treated as Aids cases until proven otherwise because statistics in this country show that the two are linked. He says the majority of those admitted for TB in state hospitals would often be carrying HIV as well. This view is extremely radical, but maybe a radical approach is what we need to make young people listen and start using condoms because their sexual behaviour isn’t changing.
On World Aids Day we saw many tweeting and facebooking about protecting themselves against the disease but statistics show that over 5 million South Africans are HIV positive – which means many of those saying such are merely lying to the rest of the world. I think of it this way, if I know ten people then one of them is likely to be HIV positive. If I know ten women between 20 and 30 then two of them are HIV positive. That is scary.
What’s even more alarming is that government is not fighting this disease alone as there are many organisations, television and radio programmes that aim to educate and yet once people switch off the TV set, put down the pamphlet or move on to a dance radio station they seem to forget all the messages they would have heard.
When we read books and watch movies about the 1970s and the 1980s we see that the apartheid system was killing young people. These days young people kill themselves by refusing to listen to the pleas to use protection, check their statuses and stop marginalising people with the disease so they too can stop being ashamed of going to clinics and hospitals to get access to treatment.
South Africa is fighting an endless battle that still needs parents and teachers to work together to address and solve this issue. Aids is affecting our country's political, economic and social future. Most youths in townships are exposed to activities that are not benefitial to their well-being and the society at large. It is everyone’s duty to take responsibility and make good decisions about their lives for South Africa to prosper.