A black celebrity's tragic story

2008-02-01 00:00

THIS book was originally published in 2005, but now appears in an updated version. Oddly, nowhere does it say what has been updated or changed, or why, but it is still an important book.

Fana Khaba was a member of the generation that came of age with the new South Africa. Having grown up in Soweto in the eighties, he had set his heart on becoming a radio DJ. For the first time for urban black youth, opportunities were there, although they still had to be hustled for - and Khaba hustled, working as a taxi driver and honing his skills until he landed a job with Yfm and reached celebrity status.

They were heady days in South Africa, and DJ Khabzela enjoyed them to the full - the fast cars, the women, the ability to live where he liked and do what he chose. And then, on air, he announced that he was HIV-positive.

His employers went way beyond what they had to do to help. They promised to keep his job while he established a regime of ARVs; pay his salary and medical expenses and protect him from the media. On his side, he was to follow medical advice and keep a daily audio diary that could be broadcast as an educational and inspirational message.

But, after a very brief period on ARVs, Khabzela turned to alternative treatment - potions cooked up by Dutch and Belgian quacks, visits to sangomas and all the rigmarole of African potatoes, lemon and garlic. His death was protracted and agonising.

Liz McGregor - an old girl of The Wykeham Collegiate in Pietermaritzburg - found herself working on his story when an American publication asked her for a piece on an HIV-positive black celebrity. She interviewed Khabzela three times before his death and also established a relationship with his fiancée, his mother and many of his colleagues. Her article turned into a book as she battled to understand what could make a man with a lot to live for choose death. It is a fascinating investigation into the enormous tragedy facing the country. And even with hopeful signs of a more rational approach from government, McGregor's research suggests that the attitudes she uncovered will not be turned around quickly.

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