HIV can be referred to as a ‘closet illness’, as those infected fear coming out due to the air of victimization and stigmatization that is attached to it. On the 1st of December we celebrated AIDS day, with the theme for 2017 being; ‘Know your status, Prevention is my responsibility.’ The awareness was aimed at changing the narrative, by stimulating conversation around the illness, as I believe by educating ourselves and promoting dialogue we get to move towards eradicating the stigma and humanizing “the illness”.
Through ‘humanizing’ it means once infected, those infected and those around us who are infected as a collective we get to introspectively comprehend how we treat those infected; that it’s not really a death sentence, that there’s a support system and you won’t be treated as an outcast.
The truth is when one talks about being infected with HIV you met with, I saw that coming because she’s a round heeled woman: she’s promiscuous, sy is n los lappie! (She sleeps around) Or you meet that hot guy and think he’s the one and when he tells you about the positive + he’s all of a sudden an automatic delete, because of assumptions and typecasting. The HIV bubble is all wrapped with shame and disgrace because at times we assume the illness is caused by promiscuity, which is partially true as there are various ways of contracting the illness.
It is concerning how culture and the obnoxious belief that sleeping with a virgin cures one of HIV or the practice of sexual cleansing (where by a girl is forced to sleep with a man when she resumes her menstruation phase), exacerbates eradicating the pandemic. What saddens me is that at times the virus infiltrates a marriage system tainting the very fabrics that are meant to stabilize the union. In such circumstances the husbands’ infidelity slithers in the sacred garden of marriage, masked with deceit, knocking the wife to the grave and for justification the husband hides behind culture.
There’s a Sotho saying “monna ke selepe wa adimisanwa” (A man is like an axe and may be borrowed) through such cultural systems there exists a patriarchal society that feels compelled to subjugate. As affirmed in a study by Seshabela that “human beings are creatures of culture hence their personalities, desires, ways of behaving and understanding are constructed by the societies which they are born and the traditions they inherit.” It is then culture at times that plays a fundamental role in driving promiscuity that eventually weaves its way through misogyny.
In such circumstances EVE knows nothing else but to obey as the ‘wo’ in the man. How then are we expecting the woman in such demeaning circumstances to stand up for herself when we tell her ‘Preventing the illness is her responsibility?’ We should bear in mind that Africanism in its primary context is traditional, hierarchal and patriarchal with women being at the very bottom of the status quo. In such circumstances the very thought of bringing up the topic of condoms, marriage counselling and HIV testing in a ‘relationship’ is unquestionably taboo, and peeling the layers warrants breaking the chains of religion and culture. However in the same breath breaking the generational cycle entails reconditioning the conservative mind set of our fathers and sons, to a level where ADAM diminishes his objectification of EVE. That when Adam pays lobola (dowry) for Eve he understands that he has no sense of ownership over Eve.
HIV is cunning, deceitful and damaging but none the less manageable. However to my darling friends, and love ones living with the illness I say to you, beautiful soul; when you think you alone and fighting a losing battle just remember that in the words of Ben Okri, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”
 Dumisa Olive Seshabela; Walter Ntsimane’s portrayal of women in the radio series MOTLHABANE: 2003