Aids Focus

HIV stigma stalks Swaziland

2010-12-01 12:41

Special Report

Mbabane - One year ago, in the small kingdom of Swaziland, 25-year-old Zanele Mamba was living on the edge.

She and her husband, Mfanzile Dlamini, were HIV-positive and had already lost two babies to Aids

They lived in a one-room hut in Mkhulamini, 50km east of the capital Mbabane, surviving on subsistence farming and Dlamini's meagre salary as a night watchman.

Dlamini's family, who owned the land they lived on, constantly harassed the couple about their HIV status.

"Mfanzile's family would say horrible things to him," said Mamba. "I kept telling him, don't worry about it. Don't go to them. But then they came to our house and continued with the verbal abuse."

Treatment failed

The couple lived for their 14-month-old daughter, Phiwa, who was HIV-negative, thanks to the prevention services Mamba received at a local clinic. Dlamini and Mamba also had access to government- supplied anti-Aids medicine, which allowed them to stay relatively healthy.

The situation worsened as the year wore on. Dlamini's treatment failed and he became too ill to work. In June 2010, he died. And Mamba realised she was no longer welcome in her home.

They (Dlamini's family) took everything I had. They took the chickens. They took my clothes. It was a sign saying, 'Just move. We don't want you here'. So I decided to pack up and leave."

On the day of her husband's funeral, Mamba took her daughter and left. She was six months pregnant with her fourth child.

Swaziland has the world's highest prevalence of HIV, the virus that causes Aids. More than a quarter of Swazis aged between 15 and 49 - 26% - are infected, yet people who disclose their status are often severely stigmatised.

Phumzile, who asked that her surname not be used, was stabbed by her husband after they both tested HIV-positive. He blamed her for bringing the disease into their home.

He said he was going to cut my throat and kill himself because he can't stand the humiliation of telling people that he's HIV- positive. I think he thought I was dead because I was bleeding profusely."

Phumzile left to live with her parents and lost all her possessions. She eventually recovered from her injuries and now works at a government hospital, counselling other women who test positive for HIV.

HIV stigma

According to Zandile Nhleko, community linkages officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Swaziland, HIV stigma is still entrenched in rural parts of Swaziland, where more than 75% of Swazis live.

People in urban areas have more access to information they have the internet, they go out more," Nhleko said.

And yet access to information alone hasn't done enough to overcome stigma, as still-high levels of prejudice among health workers and government officials testify.

Nhleko says she has seen nurses refuse to share dishes and food with colleagues who are HIV-positive.

Last year, a Swazi parliamentarian caused outrage when he proposed branding the buttocks of every Swazi who tests positive for HIV.

Some experts blame a lack of leadership at the top.

King Mswati III, Swaziland's absolute monarch, has 13 wives - despite multiple concurrent sexual partners increasing the risk of infection with HIV.

In 2001, he banned girls under 18 from having sex in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Soon after, he married a 17-year-old girl.

To date, not a single Swazi political leader has openly disclosed his or her HIV status.

Glimmers of hope

And yet, as World Aids Day is marked, there are glimmers of hope.

Zanele Mamba is now living with her mother, Alice Mamba, in rural Lubombo region.

Alice, 48, makes no secret of the fact that she is HIV-positive. Several of their neighbours have also disclosed their status, suggesting that efforts by non-government organisations to educate Swazis are working and stigma has eased, at least in this particular community.

I am very very happy here," says Zanele, who gave birth in September to a baby boy, Nkosingphile (Gift from God"), who has tested HIV-negative thus far.

Alice feels that people with HIV should take responsibility for defeating stigma in Swaziland.

People living with HIV should not hide their HIV status, but they should just disclose and tell everybody about HIV," she said.

It's very important for everybody to know that if you have HIV you are still a human being."


Read more on:    swaziland  |  hiv aids  |  health  |  southern africa

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

  • Wednesday Hout Bay - 15:52 PM
    Road name: Chapmans Peak Drive
    WEDNESDAYS - ROAD CLOSED between 10am and 3pm for Alien Vegetation Clearing, every Wednesday until July
  • Wednesday Cape Town - 15:50 PM
    Road name: Two Oceans Marathon
    SATURDAY - extensive road closures through the southern suburbs, south peninsula and Hout Bay area from 4am until 2pm for the Two Oceans Marathon event
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia C3

The Nokia C3 Features a 2+ Megapixel Camera, A2DP, Bluetooth,...

From R1175.00

I'm shopping for:


You may find yourself fascinated by something which could draw you in to obsessively exploring this subject in more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.