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South Africa | Jo-Ann: joining the struggle

Jo-Ann and her daughter were both diagnosed HIV positive on the same day: “I will never forget that day – for me it feels like it was yesterday.” At first she found it hard to accept, but then “I realised I have a child who needs me and I am still young, my life will not end here”.

Jo-Ann has a supportive family and also benefits from belonging to a women’s group: “Whenever I feel down about something that is very serious, I can talk to one of the members.” Her involvement with TAC “makes me realise how you can fight and struggle and support others who are in the same situation as you”.

She is open about her status so others “see you can live a healthy lifestyle and still be HIV positive”. She also wants the “community to be involved in the struggle against HIV and AIDS,” and believes the government could do more for people with HIV: “The government is not doing enough, and I want that to change.”

I was born on a farm in Robertson [in South Africa]… on 28th March 1970… I’ve got one brother and three sisters… We’ve got a very good understanding and we love each other very much… Both my parents are still alive…my parents love me a lot and they support me 100 percent…

I was a very naughty girl. My mum always had to come to school to apologise for my behaviour. I was always the one who fought with other kids… I never liked playing with other kids, but I always played ball with the boys. My favourite game was soccer.

[My first date?] It was so, so good [smiles]. I met my boyfriend when I was 16 years old. We were at the same school. When it was time for his Matriculation Ball he asked me to be his partner. Well, I didn’t think twice about that because he was the most sexy guy at school. From that night we started to date. It was so romantic. He was the most wonderful person I ever knew…we broke up five years ago.

My first job was at a bank in Wynberg… I was 18 years old. I was a teller there…for about four years… It was very nice. I was lucky to get that job because I didn’t finish my Matric. The people at the bank were looking for someone who had a Matric certificate – I was lucky [laughs].

‘To be HIV positive is a challenge every day’

For me to be HIV positive, at first it was hard to accept, but I said to myself I have to go on and I have to get over it. I realised I have a child who needs me and I am still young, my life will not end here. To be HIV positive is a challenge every day.

When I tell people I am positive they don’t believe me, because they say I look too healthy and good. I can just say to people…be open minded about the virus and be open about your status, then you can overcome everything.

To tell you the truth, I heard [about HIV first] among people talking… When someone was sick they said ‘Hey, you must stay away from that person, he or she’s got melaats (leprosy).’ I was always wondering, why are people like that? Why are they speaking so nastily about other people? But now I understand…

‘I will never forget that day’

My daughter was born a healthy baby, but when she reached six months she developed eczema. It started to become very bad. I was breastfeeding at that time. When my baby was one year and two months, they asked me if they could draw blood so that they could see why the eczema wasn’t healing but instead was getting worse and worse…

After a week I went back for the results. That day her doctor was not there, there was another doctor… She said to me, ‘Mrs Hendricks, your daughter is HIV positive.’ I could not understand so I took the folder and looked at it myself. There I saw ‘Baby Hendricks HIV positive’. At that moment I got so emotional, I was crying, my baby was crying, the doctor was crying, it was real bad. While I was sitting there I said to my baby over and over, ‘Please forgive me, please forgive me.’ [voice goes quiet]…

I said, ‘Doctor, you must test me now.’ The doctor said she couldn’t because I was too emotional and it would be too much for me. I said, ‘Doctor, I don’t care, I want you to test me now.’ So the doctor asked the nurse to get a very good counsellor. She said, ‘I don’t want her to leave this hospital without a good counselling session.’ The nurse got the counsellor and the doctor tested me and it came out positive. I will never forget that day – for me it feels like it was yesterday.

So that is how I knew about my status. My daughter, she is healthy with a CD4 count at 1000, and I can just thank the Lord for that.

Telling family, receiving support

It didn’t take too long for me to tell [my family]. I was a bit confused but I realised I couldn’t keep it to myself. When I told my family it was a big shock for them [but] my family has really supported me a lot. [I am single.] Whenever I have to take my daughter to the hospital, my brother takes time off work to take her. For me it was easy to tell them because we always understand and help each other.

[I also belong to] a club where all the young women come together on a Tuesday evening to talk about their relationships and their families. It is very nice because we can talk to one another and give advice, and we can support each other. Whenever I feel down about something that is very serious, I can talk to one of the members in the group. It is very good.

Involvement with TAC ‘keeps me going’

I have been at TAC for three years now… Someone who is involved with TAC asked me to attend a meeting. I went with her, and after I went to some meetings I started to join. For me, to be at TAC is wonderful, and I am not sorry I joined. TAC means a lot to me, it makes me realise how you can fight and struggle, and support others who are in the same situation.

I am a Treatment Literacy Practitioner and one of the media people… I do think [the media is important] because people need to know what is going on at TAC and what the government does for TAC… I also educate people at the clinics and tell stories. My involvement in what I am doing keeps me going every day. I really like what I am doing – to educate people every day about HIV and AIDS when people are so ignorant about HIV and don’t want to hear.

An encounter changes minds

I want people to know [about my status] so that they can see you can live a healthy lifestyle and still be HIV positive… Sometimes people treat me differently [when they find out my status], and in the beginning my family was very over protective of me.

Once I was walking with a Muslim man in Cape Town. I started talking to him about HIV and asked him how he feels about people who are HIV positive. He said according to their beliefs someone is HIV positive when they have committed a ‘sin’, and that they stone such people to death. I said to him that it is not a sin to be HIV positive. He said he will never touch a person who is HIV positive.

As we walked on, I thanked him for the conversation and took his hand for a handshake. I said ‘Sir, you have just touched someone who is HIV positive.’ He went to pull his hand out of mine. I said “No sir, nothing will happen to you – you can greet me.” And you know what? He gave me a hug and said thank you.

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with someone who is HIV positive – all of us will die one day.

Messages to the community and government

I want the community to be involved in the struggle against HIV and AIDS. I want them to help prevent HIV. I want them to educate their children about HIV and AIDS. I want the community to stop being ignorant about HIV and AIDS.

I want [those who are still negative] to stay negative… It is so important to be faithful to one partner. If you can’t stay with one partner, use a condom… I would like to tell [those who are positive] to never give up hope and to look after their health. I would like to tell them that they’ve got the same rights as anybody else…

[In the future] I would like to see everybody with a CD4 count of below 200 on ARVs. I want the government and our President to help our people that are HIV positive. The government is not doing enough, and I want that to change.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim throughout has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections. Extracts from these interviews also appear under the key topics; these extracts pull together relevant comments and in a few cases include sentences that have been re-ordered or cut from the edits.

Project

South Africa | Jo-Ann: joining the struggle is produced as part of the Speaking freely on HIV oral testimony project.

Testimonies

South Africa | Gerald: sharing the burden

South Africa | Jo-Ann: joining the struggle

South Africa | John: a loving family

South Africa | Nomafu: encouraging others

South Africa | Patrick: beauty in equality

South Africa | Sylvia: anger to acceptance

Namibia | CJ: fulfilling our potential

Namibia | Karolina: bringing me peace

Namibia | Jeni: leaving stigma behind

Namibia | Maria: information is essential

Key themes

Introduction to the project

Hopes and visions

Challenging the government

Working with the media

Support through community

Why join… or start a movement?

Living with HIV

Gender dimensions

Identity, culture and context