Another interesting day still

What was it like being a learner in your day?

It was exciting. I attended school during the height of political instability. We got to miss out on school because of a lot of political action.

Who was your mentor at school and what impact did he or she have on your life?

My mentor was my English teacher. She was also a neighbour, so I had to behave. From an early age, she regarded me highly. She referred to me as ‘Doctor” because she thought I was smart and intelligent. I disappointed her by not becoming a doctor, but at least I have been awarded an honorary doctorate.

What subjects did you consider fascinating and why?

We had a lab that was made up of two containers. Back then we didn’t have the technological facilities they have now. We used to mix mentholated spirits and water, light it, and then be shocked by the result! English and History were quite fascinating too.

What lessons have you learnt that have moulded you into the person you are today?

I think the most motivating thing for me was to overcome discrimination and prejudice. I experienced a lot of that. I’m not the tallest of people and the bigger guys used to pick on me. My family sold African beer and was stigmatised a lot; everything African was stigmatised. The pain and trauma I went through made me realise that I should not do that to others.

What is it about journalism that attracted you to the career?

I always had a passion for writing. At the age of six, I started writing letters for my grandfather. I used to write letters to his other wife in KwaZulu-Natal. In our culture we cannot discuss certain things, but there was a lot of juicy stuff in the letters. He used to tell me to close my ears when I’m writing. And the writing just continued from there. If I didn’t go into the field of journalism, I would have done law. It really fascinates me and runs parallel with journalism.

Why was it important for you to make your status known to all?

At the time, there was a thunderous silence around HIV/Aids. Gugu Dlamini was killed for disclosing her status. I felt selfish. I could have educated people. By writing for Sowetan, a newspaper read mostly by black people, I have a wider audience and can inform a lot of people about the disease.

You had an interesting idea about what Aids meant when you were younger. Do you mind sharing that with us?

When reports of Aids first came out, we referred to it as American Ideas Discouraging Sex. It was societal creativity. There was also this idea that we had to have many kids in order to supply Umkhonto weSizwe with people to fight.

Do you think it is appropriate for children to be exposed to safe sex education?

I think it’s a good thing to initiate dialogue at an early stage. My concern, however, is on the part of the educators. We come from a time of silence. I’m worried about how the information is being imparted and if it is factual.

You are refusing to take medication. How do you remain positive when you are sick?

One cannot enjoy life unless you learn to deal with certain impediments, but we also have a fear for the unknown. Being HIV-positive, I look forward to a new day and I strive towards goals in my life. My definition of Aids has changed and it now means Another Interesting Day Still. I look forward to every day in my life.

What message do you have for the youth/children of today?

My biggest message is that young people must learn to enjoy life. They must learn to be happy, strive towards goals and be ambitious in life. But with all of that, they must learn to be responsible. That is my message.

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Cheri Ann James
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