Arts and Culture

From the cradle to the grave in Africa

Maakomele Manaka

From afar, HIV/Aids can seem harmless, until someone in your family contracts the virus.

Last weekend I kissed a girl at Six on 7th Street in Melville, and I liked it. But then, a few hours later, in the heat of passion, she said she was allergic to latex. A woman who ­prefers dancing without a jimmy? Hmm, at first the thought excited me. But then there was a loud ­question amid my excitement: “What if she is HIV-positive?” Like the responsible young man I am, we just kissed and left it there.

According to a department of health survey, women are the most affected by the HIV epidemic in the country and also in most parts of the continent. From afar, HIV/Aids can seem harmless, until someone in your family contracts the virus. We laid one of my young uncles to rest in 2009. He died of the disease at the age of 32 and I can still remember how it happened, as if the events took place just yesterday.

First he began complaining about his legs and, superstitious as he was, he thought it had to do with witchcraft. But it was, in fact, something more powerful than black magic. After traditional healers had failed we finally took him to a hospital, but by then he was really bad and somehow I could tell he knew that it was the virus that was slowly and painfully eating him.

Death in any family is not easy. We still hurt, we still grieve. I cannot ­forget how people in my neighbourhood treated him—it was as if he was contagious, as if a handshake from him would automatically infect them. There is so much prejudice in our black communities and families in terms of HIV/Aids.

I mean, if someone is infected the gossiping knuckleheads of the townships will discriminate or be repulsed by the sight of that person. They will either say “she was asking for it” or “shame, Z3 is no joke, look at her now”.

In some conservative families it is taboo to talk about sex or rape, never mind experience it. In many cases these families feel ashamed and keep it hidden—there has been so much discussion about the way people who discover they are HIV-positive hide their status.

Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa ­in particular, is more severely affected by the epidemic than any region in the world. There are more people dying from HIV/Aids on the continent than there are cars at a McDonald’s drive-through. Yet we still ask ourselves whether HIV/Aids is an African thing.

The continent is already riddled with abuses of political power and ­economic struggles, and it now must face the slow and painful death of its young. We have to ask ourselves the painful question: If Africa is the ­cradle of humankind, is it also where life will end?

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