The negative of a negative

2010-05-06 00:00

DOES President Jacob Zuma take HIV tests the way my daughter takes school tests? It’s not important that she has broken all the rules. If the answers are right, then nothing else matters. If she can hold her pencil with three fingers, squeeze it down to the lead while sitting on hunched knees and leaning on one elbow, and the writing still comes out neat, then who cares about wrong technique? In the short term, she’s right. In the long run she will be five answers short of an exam. Or if she can play the piano with flat fingers, while slouching her shoulders and forgetting to count, and the piece still comes out sweetly, then who needs to faff over posture? In the short term, I agree. In the long run, she is burning up her dreams of being the next Darius Brubeck.

The likelihood is that she will grow out of it and realise that techniques and rules, as troubling as they are in the short term, make great writers and musicians in the long term. But not if she keeps waving those test results in our faces.

I thought that the purpose of HIV testing is to make sure that HIV-positive people get care before it is too late, to make sure that positive people make lifestyle choices that are loving and to make sure that positive people live long and fruitful lives. And I thought that the purpose of public figures being tested is to encourage ordinary citizens to be tested too, so that they can get care and make wise choices. And I thought that the purpose of not disclosing your status is so that other people, who do not want to disclose their status, won’t be afraid of being tested. They won’t feel pressure to tell everyone what their test results are; because the tests are there to help them and their family and their friends and their partners cope wisely with the disease.

But did the president see a greater purpose in the test: a chance to wave those test results in our faces? Perhaps he thought: “Bad technique doesn’t necessarily mean poor results.” Perhaps he thought: “Look here, you bunch of mockers, you criticised me for my showers, my unprotected sex, my numerous wives and my numerous nonwives — but read the bold print: it says ‘negative’.” And perhaps he thought none of that, but the rest of us are sure thinking it.

Does he not realise what this could do to a nation? Never mind the scores of children who will laugh out loud at their teachers’ petty rules — what about the abstain, be faithful and condomise idea? What about LoveLife’s “be sexually responsible, have a healthy lifestyle” campaign? What about the millions of women who always knew that if you keep your status secret then all you are saying is that you are positive? So to avoid the possible shame, rather not find out. What about the millions of men who will copy his poor technique and not end up so lucky? Who will eventually learn that rules aren’t just for children. Who will find out the hard way, that playing with your fingers flat will one day make a sad song.


• Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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