Johanna, gains will power to reduce stigma and discrimination due to HIV in the Dark City.
Johanna Mbuyane (Middle) 48 years, is a widow staying in Dark City, Ekangala , Gauteng Province. She lost her parents some years back. She has then had to fend for herself to meet her daily needs. Johanna began by sharing the traditions and cultures that predisposed the life of young ladies to Risk and Vulnerability.
“My father couldn’t let me go to school because it was against his Culture to let girls go to school. So is stayed at Home doing domestic cores.” Recall Johanna.
Johannah has stayed in Dark City for some year now, over that period she began to face many diseases and looked sickly. Johanna decided to have her first HIV Test in 1999 at a local clinic and the results were positive. Then the stigma was too high in the community she where staying. People pointed out to the HIV infected people with a lot of mockery. She remembers watching news on local Television where one woman who had HIV was stoned to death. That really scared her a lot and she decided not to disclose her HIV status. This was only for three months before she did another test. On the second test, the results were again positive. It was then that she decided to disclose, first to her husband, who did not take the story very well. Johanna then became a victim of physical abuse and discrimination from home and the community. She was faced with an abusive husband and his girlfriends who beat her to a point of death to which she was often rescued by the local neighbourhood school teachers. Some members of the community were mocking her, calling her names and telling others not to visit her house because they will catch the virus and die. All this happened before the introduction of ARV’S to try and address the challenge of the many opportunistic diseases she was facing. The hardships in her life caused depression and there was a time where she became suicidal.
In 2004 ARV’S were introduced in St. Joseph’s, many people were dying in their homes. Johanna became one of the pioneer patients. She didn’t like ARV at the beginning. But she reflected to herself, I want to strengthen Ubuntu (our common Humanity) in the community by caring for others and myself. This brought hope in her life, as her health improved, leading to her gaining will power to lead those infected and affected in the community.
She is actively involved in HIV/ AIDS community awareness campaigns through local radio stations, secondary and primary schools, churches, police stations, local clinics, to combat the stigma. Her involvement in championing change has led to incredible change in Dark City. The dark cloud in her life did not last. Those who thought that she was going to die were surprised to see her surviving every day. She also became encouraged as she was given another chance in life. Johannah was no longer afraid to face her fears, even the mocking made her stronger. Her survival brought curiosity to others and asked themselves “how is she surviving.”
There were hundreds from the community who decided to come out of the closet and went to seek advice from her. Her house later became a reflection of a hospice, with hundreds of people coming to seek advice on health and life from her. The churches are inviting her to encourage the Congregation on positive living. She has been and still is a centre of hope through her actions. She has saved many lives. Currently most individuals diagnosed with HIV are referred to her house for comfort and counselling. This is a total shift in community perception of how they viewed HIV infected people.
She reflects, “Stigma has gone down for both infected and affected individuals and families; Those who couldn’t visit my house, are my biggest visitors. They are coming to seek advice about their health and life from me...Our support group has 65 members and only two have passed away since we formed the group; People have acknowledged that with HIV you could live longer, before they thought with HIV you are finished”.
At present, Johanna is a foster parent in the OVC programme where they are feeding 103 orphaned children and HIV infected children in her community. Johanna is a true survivor, she amazed us when she said, “I will die from other illness but not HIV/AIDS”.