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South Africa | Nomafu: encouraging others

When she became pregnant, Nomafu discovered that her boyfriend was already married. She was advised to take an HIV test and describes the shock of finding out she was positive:”I didn’t eat. I slept the whole week.”

Her family was supportive, and a group at her clinic enabled her to become a mentor, helping other HIV-positive pregnant women. She then joined TAC, and is now a peer educator. “TAC has helped me a lot… I now have counselling skills and I’ve learnt how to deal with different people… [Before] I was at home doing nothing.”

Nomafu talks about how TAC was formed, its structure and what it does. She would like more members to find employment – only then will they be able to fight poverty- and encourages others to take advantage of treatment and support: “Let us stand up and use what we have,” she says.

I was born…in the Eastern Cape…in 1971… We were seven children, but one of us passed away. We are now four brothers and two sisters… Only my mother is alive, [my father] passed away in a car accident in 1994…

I did go to school, but I left in standard nine because of financial problems. [For my first job] I worked in a shop. I use to pay for the electricity and small groceries [to help my family] – nothing much, because the money was too little. I also saved money to [work towards] my school matriculation, but I didn’t pass.

After [that] I was without a job. During that time I was supported by my brother… He got money because he had a car accident…and was in a wheelchair. He used to give me money for groceries and clothes.

I wanted to be a social worker – to work with people. Those were my dreams but they didn’t come through… [Now] I do go to different people’s organizations, but the money that I get doesn’t fulfill my dreams.

Relationships and separations

When I was at High School I started dating a man who was a soldier. At home they used to beat me because [he] was…older. But I didn’t end my relationship – I was happy…and the beatings were like nothing to me…

As I grew up, I had another relationship with a guy who gave me promises of marriage. I told myself that I will spend my whole life with him and have his children, but it didn’t go that way – we separated. I also had a relationship with a guy I didn’t know was married – I ended up pregnant and found out that I was HIV positive.

Unexpected pregnancy

I don’t want to lie and say [the pregnancy] was fine, because I didn’t become pregnant with the man I wanted to be pregnant with. The guy was a soldier who traveled to other countries, and I was not expecting to be pregnant because it was still early in our relationship. The first time I slept with him was the day I conceived…

We didn’t know each other so well, but we decided to go out and talk about our relationship and the pregnancy – that was when I heard that he was married… I was so frustrated…and at home they didn’t wish me well because I got pregnant by a married man.

I wouldn’t say I was still in [the relationship]. If he wants to call me, he will…. I also call him when I want to. We talk mostly about the child [who is now five].

Diagnosed with HIV

It was on February 11th 2001 [that I was diagnosed]. I was pregnant and we were advised to have a test in order…to prevent our babies getting HIV…

When I heard [I was positive] I had a rash over my body… I said to myself, ‘This AIDS has started.’ I was unhappy and I stayed [at home] for a week… I was alone in the house. My family was in the Eastern Cape. I called my boyfriend and arranged to meet. When he came…I just said ‘I have AIDS.’

He was shocked [but] he consoled me, saying that this is not the end of the world…. [But] I didn’t trust the words he gave me, and I didn’t eat. I slept the whole week.

Family support

When my family arrived home they saw that I was behaving differently…that I hadn’t eaten my food. They called my sister to come and talk to me. When she arrived she told me she knew that I had been to the clinic…and it was up to me to seek assistance. She also told me that sleeping the whole week wouldn’t help. I told her the story and I was relieved.

Nothing has changed with [my mother]. She said, ‘I will love you the way I loved you before – you are still my child – that will not change.’

Joining TAC, encouraging others

When I was diagnosed with HIV…I joined the clinic’s support group… Then we were combined with other mothers to form a group called Mothers to Mothers. I was its first mentor…encouraging other HIV-positive pregnant women… TAC members used to come to the group. They talked about TAC, HIV treatment, the nearest clinics and people’s rights. Most of those people were living with HIV and encouraging us to join.

I joined TAC in 2003… I first became an ordinary volunteer, doing everything, and I later became a peer educator…in the ARV clinic…. At the clinic I educate clients…about opportunistic infections, so that they can easily identify what they have to their doctors. From that platform I promote TAC, and many people join through the education I give them….”

‘Before I was at home doing nothing’

TAC has helped me a lot… I’ve had trainings about HIV/AIDS and treatments… I now have counseling skills and I’ve learnt how to deal with different people… [Before] I was at home doing nothing…. Now I can talk…to people about HIV and my HIV status…and we can support each other. I also talk to people about ARVs, and how I am taking them.

When I [first] spoke in front of people I was shocked – it was stressful… It was the reaction of people… Some cry, some smile or laugh, so you become confused and unsure of whether you’ve said the right thing.

TAC’s formation and structure

I think TAC was formed in 1988 for HIV-positive people to be able to access better health care services and treatments… TAC members came from the organization called the National Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPWA)… They wanted to challenge the government.

[In TAC] even those who are HIV negative are educated and don’t discriminate against other people… We talk about rape, gender violence and HIV prevention. There are [things that we don’t talk about enough] such as housing and sanitation… Poor sanitation and housing lead to unhealthy living, so a lot of people will get diseases like TB…

[TAC has] paid staff, and volunteers who are unemployed. We have community branches…[which] meet through a district executive committee. Chairpersons and organizers from each branch are part of that district meeting – they give feedback to their branch… Decisions are taken by people who represent their branches at district level. [Each branch] has a committee composed of chairperson, secretary and organizer who speak on behalf of members.

Publicity and education

TAC is working with schools and we also have a youth sector where we mobilize young people. Through our branches and campaigns we are able to mobilize them… TAC also works with media such as radio and newspapers…

TAC representatives are sent to talk with the managers…. [In this area] we have a local radio station…that we’re working with… We have been called on to talk about ARVs… And we invite newspapers to events we are having. If [the media] announce our events and engage the community through education on the radio, that will [help TAC].

‘Let us stand up and use what we have’

As I mentioned, many TAC members are unemployed. It will be better if they can get employment and be able to maintain themselves. We will then be able to fight poverty.

TAC has educated people and promoted openness. They’ve tried to fight discrimination and have got people treatment… I advise everyone to talk about HIV/AIDS, and go for the test in order to know their status

I would like to say ‘HIV is here. People should wake up and seek help. It doesn’t help to stay indoors because you are HIV positive. TAC has fought for us – now we have treatment in some areas. People, let us stand up and use what we have.’

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 | Nomafu: encouraging others 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