In The Words Of
The First Self-Declared HIV/Aids Columnist In Africa: "I can’t even remember why I decided to disclose. It was such a long time ago, but I think the basic reason was that I felt very selfish being HIV positive and not doing anything about it. Especially because people were dying, and suffering because of the stigma and silence around HIV/Aids. Naturally I am an introvert, it has always been awkward to me to keep things to myself; I love to talk, laugh and cheer people up. It felt so difficult that I could talk about everything else in my life except a specific thing, which wasn’t anything more than an illness. With that said it was a personal choice for me, and in the last two years there have been major campaigns about people disclosing. I don’t think that it’s a good idea that people should be coerced to disclose their status.
"For me what’s more important is that people should be caring for themselves, protecting themselves, eating well and accessing treatments. Rather than disclosing people should be eating well and accessing treatments, and just basically taking for the sake of it. Most times you find that people disclose for the wrong reasons. They tend to believe that if you disclose you might get a grant or a job or be protected in one-way or another. Which is not the case, I think disclosure is very important but anyone who does discloses must do so out of their own, un-pressured choice. I often am asked why it is that I decide to express myself through the paper. The way I see it media is extremely powerful as is the infection of HIV/Aids very powerful. So for me there were two options it was either I was going to write about my life or I was going to do it through radio, because the magnitude of the problem was so large I needed to come up with something that was equally if not more powerful than the problem. But I think that I needed to impact a mass of people rather than a small group.
"A lot of things have come to light, some people say that the struggle now is economic and the fight against HIV/Aids. If you ask me, I feel that economy is very important whether you are positive or not. It’s important just to be okay so that you can access resources, even more so with HIV/Aids because you need to be able to acquire knowledge and medication, its very important that people should be economically free. I think for me that’s one factor that has liberated me, because I never rely on anyone to do anything for me. So when I disclosed I wasn’t desperate, I was already a businessman and was not forced by economic factors or any other factors, it was simply a natural decision to move from silence to this.
"What keeps me going is the love that I receive from people, like an ordinary poor person who would call me and say thank you, I was able to reach so and so. On the other hand I think that I get agitated and de-motivated by the politics of HIV/Aids. The in fighting between HIV/Aids based organizations, where there is a great sense of greed, professional jealousy. Talking about politics of late I feel that some of what has happened has been a great manipulation of people having access to the media. The one example that comes to mind is the controversy regarding the minister of health which in many ways was an unconscious expose of a journalists ignorance, but portrayed as embarrassing to the minister because if the minister talks about garlic and beetroot and other such things to an ignorant person who is supposed to be learned and that sounds like crap. But if you are aware of the importance of nutrition, and there isn’t a single person that will tell you that you can take anti-retrovirals without the correct nutrition.
"To add to that for me personally I lived with HIV for 15 years before I started taking anti-retrovirals, so for those 15 years it was nutrition that kept me going. Garlic for example is commonly taken to help prevent flu, and it boost your immune system and also to someone who has HIV/Aids, garlic is important because it helps deal with issues like those of oral thrush. So perhaps the problem with the minister is that she had grown intolerant with journalists and members of the press and it became an argumentous relationship and was more damaging for the minister as opposed to the journalist because no one really cares about the journalist.
"So then the problem became that people started to associate HIV with the government and it became a people versus government and in essence it’s a personal matter. In this day and age for the most part you choose if you want to be HIV positive or not because there’s so much awareness. Like with regards to the work I have done I feel that I have achieved what I wanted. The biggest challenge for Africa and Africans in particular is an economic one because if you talk about the G8, The UN and all those other structures that are formed they are not just humanitarian organization. With their funding come very stringent conditions. So if the money is coming from Europe then the conditions will be European, then you find that some of the things we need are missed. Look at it this way in Europe when it comes to the fight against HIV/Aids the main focus is on anti-retroviral drugs because they’ve got the rest sorted out. They’ve got the food, the accommodation, and the sanitation. In that case for them it’s the treatment that’s vital and you understand because of where they come from. Bring that example back home and they fail to but realize that here we have to start from the bottom moving up.
"We need to provide food for people, we need to provide sanitation, and so then you find that access to treatment is urgent but not a priority people want food to eat. I mean if you were to go to an informal settlement now and ask if HIV/Aids were a priority they would probably tell you not. They need jobs, money, and food. HIV is somewhere around sixth or seventh position. If it were up to me I would make education the main priority in this fight. Give people more education so that they can understand how to manipulate the system and see that you can eat and you can know and you can move and achieve a lot by simply being enlightened. Something else that I think we ought to address is the fact that, most of the programmes we implement are not sustainable, because people mustn’t just be given food they must be taken to the pond and taught how to fish for themselves. But in general we don’t do that because the more enlightened people are the less thankful and grateful they become to us. Its like we want to be some sort of demi-gods. We live in a country and are constantly told – the economy is booming, there is a surplus- to the majority of people it feels like the money is doing nothing, and sitting somewhere far away.
"For instance now we have a massive problem with crime why isn’t there a massive campaign that seeks to address young people. We have millions of youth who are out of school doing anything, bored in the townships, who are likely to take drugs and are likely to take part in even more daring sexual activity and so this is the problem that we don’t seem to be having our priorities right. I am just thinking that in my teens when I was young and had a lot to do I would probably not be HIV positive .If I had the option of taking part in extra mural activities, could go to a cinema and all that sex would have been the last thing on my list. But I fear that young people are stagnant there’s nothing to do..."