Politician declares HIV status

2004-12-03 22:06

Pietermaritzburg - Hilda Mninzi is married to a man who spoiled their first date, declaring his HIV status and bringing tears instead of all smiles. It was September 28, 1998, a date that changed Hilda's life forever. Within a month her new love had proposed.

Hilda, 25, is the wife of IFP MPL Anthony Grinker, who surprised the KwaZulu-Natal legislature on World Aids Day this week when he declared: "I am HIV positive."

"It was hair-raising at first, but his honesty strengthened my resolve to commit to him," said Hilda. Hilda's mother supported her decision, saying "If you love him go for it."

They tied the knot in 2001 with three different ceremonies including an African traditional one.

But how does a young woman cope with a restricted sex life? Hilda is silent, then says: "I care for and love him. We use condoms all the time. I am still HIV negative."

Grinker's statement to the legislature was the third time he has made his status known, but first such public disclosure.

"After a week of knowing my status (1996) I told my late mother about it, and later IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi," he said. "The support I received from my mother and the whole family was phenomenal."

All vulnerable

He said the manner in which Buthelezi dealt with the death of his children from Aids-related illness convinced him that "I have to come out of the closet soon to help to minimise the stigma associated with the disease, showing that we are all vulnerable".

He said World Aids Day just seemed a right time to do it. No member of his party knew about his planned statement to the legislature.

Since his announcement, well-wishers have not stopped congratulating him on his bravery.

Hilda said she is now waiting to know her "true friends", those prepared to accept her husband's status and her decision to support his public disclosure. In an exclusive interview with Weekend Witness she told of Anthony Grinker - great lover, patient man and dedicated politician.

It is difficult to say "exactly how and when" he contracted HIV, Grinker says.

There is steeliness in Hilda's voice, a deep-seated sense of reserve, and a self preservation, and that seems to be her strength. She admits to being a "loner with a heart of gold".

Grinker has lived positively for seven years, and is taking Combivir and Stocrin anti-retroviral drugs. "I take one tablet in the morning and two at night, and I have had no side effects," he said.

Mandisa Mbali, an HIV/Aids activist and researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, hailed the public statement as an "honourable act that shows that politicians are not immune to the disease". Mbali said this shows that "everyone is at risk, HIV is not about poverty and death."