Family determined to turn HIV/ Aids on its head

2015-12-01 08:52
Greg Nerf and his family painted this logo on a popular graffiti wall in Parktown, Johannesburg to commemorate World Aids Day. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Greg Nerf and his family painted this logo on a popular graffiti wall in Parktown, Johannesburg to commemorate World Aids Day. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - The mentality that people have towards HIV and Aids needs to be turned on its head and a local baker is doing his bit to try to get the world to do exactly that.

Greg Nerf has been painting walls, buses and pavements on November 30 ahead of World Aids Day for much of the last 20 years. He wants the world to take a moment and think about HIV from a different perspective.

READ: How close are we to a world without Aids?

"We need to turn this thing upside down and we need to look at it differently," Nerf says as cars pass by at the busy intersection of Jan Smuts Avenue and Empire Road in Parktown, north of Johannesburg.

"To stop it, we have to change. It's not about cures, it's about how we deal with it now. It's a simple thing, educating people about their behaviours. It's about having a single partner and being safe."

Nerf, his 22-year-old son Kyle and daughter Kelsey, 19, and her boyfriend Brenton, 20, have gathered to paint the mural on the famous wall.

‘They kept dying’

It has become a family tradition.

It was all sparked by the "sudden" deaths of their Zimbabwean gardener Martin's friends, who had come to Johannesburg to find work.

They kept dying "out of the blue" but Nerf knew something else was going on.

The logo Greg and his family painted on the wall in Parktown. (Photos by Mpho Raborife, News24)

"All his friends that he brought down died, and they don't talk about it. They just say they died out of the blue."

The first of Martin’s friends to die was soon followed by his girlfriend and their infant child, Nerf says.

READ: HIV transmission - how to avoid infecting your partner

The 47-year-old is adamant that the best way to deal with HIV/ Aids is to begin by sticking to one sexual partner.

The first painting he did was along Louis Botha Avenue, north east of Johannesburg in 1996, and after that he and a group of friends decided to paint the logo in Soweto and other parts of the city that they frequented.

The last mural the family painted together was in 2010. Nerf, who worked in retail for 25 years, moved to the Free State and started a bakery in a small town called Fouriesdorp.

Putting the finishing touches to the mural.             

He says no one there spoke about HIV/ Aids.

When he moved back to Johannesburg this year, he grabbed the opportunity to pick up his where he left off and create awareness about World Aids Day.

"It's just one day, [after] tomorrow it will be old news. But if someone can drive past this and say 'hey, why is that upside down?’ They're already starting to think about it."

As they paint, motorists passing the busy intersection stare out of curiosity, some hoot and some cheer in support.

A different perspective

Kelsey, who is a Grade 2 teacher, says doing this makes her feel like she is contributing in a small way to creating awareness.

"I'm healthy, but it makes you stop and think about those people that have lost their mothers, have lost their fathers to this.

"I'm not changing anything but I'm going home knowing that I did a small thing towards it...and maybe it will make a difference to other people to see it in a different perspective.

"Because it's upside down, it's in a different perspective, some people will look at it and say 'it's the wrong way round, why? Maybe I need to look at HIV in a different way.'... It may be a painting but at the end of the day you go home and you think about it."

Her brother Kyle, who is also a teacher, says most of his peers still live in a bubble and are yet to acknowledge that contracting the virus is a reality.

‘People don’t want to get tested’

"In the age group that I'm in with my friends, we are still fixated on the idea of pregnancy.

"I've never thought of contracting HIV but it is a risk and it is a reality and you do need to know your partner and that comes down to trust and knowing their past and exactly what's going on in the relationship."

Brenton, who is a medical student, says most people avoid getting tested out of fear of being stigmatised.

"I've been to the hospitals and to Aids clinics. It's not talked about as much as it should be. It's one thing learning about it but...people don't want family members to know that they've got the disease. People don't want to come to get tested."

READ MORE: HIV stigma - what people living with HIV need to know

In less than three hours the group has achieved its goal. The logo is up and people are looking at it, at them. They pack up their paintbrushes and paint, have a farewell beer and a burger then go their separate ways.

December 1 will be just another day to them, but at least they left their mark on it.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  hiv aids

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