Nontombi Lekoane is a sangoma, an auxiliary nurse and an activist fighting for the rights of those living with HIV and gender-based violence.
But the 26-year-old HIV warrior's journey has been a hard one, and she has faced many battles to get where she is today.
Nontombi, from Johannesburg, tells Drum she was very outspoken as a child and she's always stood up for herself and the truth.
Her life lessons began early, discovering she was HIV positive at the age of 10.
“I remember the day – it was in 2004 and I was doing Grade 4 at the time. My mother and I made frequent visits to the local clinic and I thought it was normal. I thought they were regular check-ups,” she says.
“One day I overheard the doctor asking my mother when she was going to tell me that I was HIV positive and she said she was trying to tell me. When we got home, my mother had a short discussion with my grandmother and later she called me and said she wanted to tell me something. I told her I already knew what she wanted to tell me and she started crying.”
Both Nontombi’s parents were HIV positive. Her father died in 2010 and her mother passed away in 2015.
Despite being so young, she says she never tried to hide her status from her friends, even though her family reprimanded her for sharing such sensitive information with others.
“In high school, there were instances when I was teased because of my status. Once my status was written all over the girls’ bathrooms and the principal called my mother and I into the office to ask that I be sent home.
“I refused to go home. Instead, I took to the front during assembly and I told the entire school, ‘Yes, I am HIV positive and nothing you say will hurt me’.”
Despite her strength and confidence, Nontombi says her world came crashing down when her mother died, but something new also emerged in her.
“I started experiencing some problems after my mother passed away and my grandmother decided it would be best to take me to a traditional healer. I found out I had an ancestral calling and, instead of my grandmother performing some of the rituals herself, she took me to someone else to be initiated.
“Two months down the line, I realised I was not learning anything there. The man who was initiating me had a wife who thought I was after her husband. I called my grandmother to tell her I was leaving. I also had a dream in which my ancestors warned me they were going to shut down my dreams if I did not leave,” Nontombi says.
At this time, she neglected her ancestral calling and this was when many things started to go wrong.
Nontombi shares two terrible ordeals with Drum but prefers not to go into much detail. She says she was kidnapped by some of the other activists she was working with and kept for a few days. Not long after, she tells us she was raped.
Nontombi says she prefers not to say anything more on these matters, except that she believes they were signs from her ancestors who were warning her to complete her initiation and become a sangoma.
This she did at the end of last year and she tells us that since then, her life has become very peaceful as her ancestors have been appeased.