Living Positively By Thandi Mkhatshwa, The Amazwi Blogger

Living Positively

By Thandi Mkhatshwa, The Amazwi Blogger

Published on Fri, Sep 12 2008 by Thandi Mkhatshwa
It’s not everyday one meets a person wanting to freely disclose their HIV/AIDS status to the rest of the world. Many people aren’t brave enough. But today, I felt very honored and humbled to have had the privilege of meeting a gentleman who isn’t afraid to share his life long story. “I was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, at a time when really things like these were hardly known,” said Oupa Ngoveni, a tall, dark man with a short, shiny haircut and trimmed beard.
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Oupa Ngoveni, 27, was in standard nine when his problem started. He was constantly in and out of school due to the illness that eventually landed him in the hospital for a long period of time. He had lost a huge amount of weight. And his community members talked about him behind his back, saying if he had TB, he had AIDS because ‘TB and AIDS are best friends’. The rumors inspired Ngoveni to get himself tested at the hospital. “I was not scared to get tested because I counseled myself before doing it. I had accepted the fact that the results may come back positive,” Ngoveni said. He discovered that he was indeed HIV positive.
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Ngoveni’s family was not pleased with the outcome. “It was very hard for them to accept this. I remember my family didn’t want anything to do with me anymore,” Mr. Ngoveni explained, speaking softly as he leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. “They didn’t want to stay with me or let me sit with them on the sofas. I wasn’t allowed to even eat from the same plates as them. My family fully isolated me, fearing that I would infect them with my HIV. I didn’t know how to handle it.”
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His family’s attitude didn’t change; it only got worse and to a point where a social worker had to move him away from them. She placed him in an RDP house in Mkhuhlu, where he has been living ever since. “Up until now, my family hasn’t come around, ” he said. However, Ngoveni did not let this get him down. He went on to attend several workshops on HIV/AIDS, and also went on to attend a four-month training course on voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) with NAPO in Nelspruit.
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The workshops helped Ngoveni accept his condition and gather enough courage to disclose his HIV status to his church. He also went on to disclose his status to his community during an HIV campaign hosted on World AIDS Day in 2001. The treatment he got from people served as an inspiration to come out and educate people on HIV/AIDS. “People from my own church started to hate me. My friends and girlfriend ran way from me. Even when I went to use a public phone, the people who were behind me didn’t want to use it anymore because I had touched it, ‘the person with AIDS’.”
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Mr. Ngoveni is now on a mission. He wants to reach out to all the pastors from different churches to hold HIV education workshops. He believes that pastors are the keys to reach out to people. “ Pastors are like our parents. If they accept people who have HIV in their churches, many people will follow suit. But if that doesn’t happen, then many people will be lost without information about the virus,” he explained.
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He is a little worried about what some pastors say to people who have tested positive. “Some pastors advise people who are taking ARV’s to stop taking them because they say HIV is a demon, and only needs a prayer or fasting or vava faka xipeyiti, and many people die because of that. The pastors forget that the virus is not in the intestine but in the blood, and it is impossible to remove the virus. That is why I am trying to
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Ngoveni even has a strong message to people who stigmatize others because of their HIV status. “Don’t think because you haven’t tested for HIV, you are hundred percent okay,” he advised. “Treat people who are infected with respect, and don’t go around spreading rumous because that can destroy the person you are gossiping about. Any person who is HIV positive is just the same as any ordinary human being.”
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Mr. Ngoveni has been living a positive life. Though he is infected with the virus, he hasn’t given up on life, as many people tend do when they discover their HIV status. “I tested positive in 1999. All of that time, I was only taking Bactrim, until this year when I started to take ARV’s. My weight is back to normal again because I am not misbehaving, and I am taking my medication on time,” Ngoveni explained.
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Ngoveni volunteers at Tintswalo Hospital and works at the Bushbuckridge Consortium, a non-profit organization that dedicates its time and services to people who are affected by HIV/AIDS. “Being HIV positive doesn’t mean you are going to die,” he advised. “You still have a long way to go before that happens because God is the only one who knows when you are going to die.”
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Thandi Mkhatshwa is a reporter with The Amazwi Villager, a newspaper written by rural African female journalists of Sotho and Shangaan descent and distributed in their home communities within the lowveld region of South Africa. Amazwi, a non-profit organization, publishes the Villager monthly. To read more, visit: www.amazwivillager.org.

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