SIPHO Nhlengetwa (33), a father of four from Duduza in Ekurhuleni, has been living with HIV for 13 years and is on a mission to educate his community about the disease to help them live a healthy life. He was diagnosed with the virus in 2003 after he was raped by a family friend. The trauma of his ordeal was so great that he started drinking every weekend. With prayers and support from his family, he stopped drinking and started accepting his status. “I’m now living a healthy life and I’m happy that I can teach my community that being HIV positive is not a death sentence. “I had to accept that I’m HIV positive and find a way to keep my body strong so I can live longer. I have given the virus a name and it’s my life partner. I call it Happy Innocentia Vilakazi. “I gave the virus a name as a symbol of me accepting it as part of my body and immune system. It is part of my existence,” he explains.
HOW HE GOT INFECTED
Sipho was raped by a person close to him, whom he thought would change his life, but he was wrong. “I had high hopes when I was doing matric. This woman promised me that she would help me further my studies. She was my mother’s friend. I never suspected that she wanted more from me,” he says. Sipho explains that on the day of the incident, he visited her and she asked him to sleep with her but he refused. She then forced herself onto him. “I never told anyone about what happened. I thought people would never believe that I was raped by a woman,” says Sipho.
LEARNING FROM HIS ILLNESS
He says he later found out that he was HIV positive. He, however, admits that his status has taught him so much about himself and made him discover skills and talents he never knew he had. “I’m currently busy with my second book, even though the first one hasn’t been published yet. I’m working towards getting both books published,” he says. “With only a positive mindset to keep me going, I realised that I could write and motivate others, which led me to write a book about my status,” says Sipho, adding that many people still need to educate themselves about HIV in order to be able to deal with it. “My wish is for people who are living with the disease to love themselves and accept their status no matter how they got infected. A positive attitude will help them beat the disease as opposed to living in denial. Being HIV positive is not the end of the world but an opportunity to discover new things,” he says.
Among other things, Sipho says he wants to hold workshops where he will educate his community about the disease and try to end the stigma that surrounds HIV and Aids. “I'm saddened that so many people are ignorant about this disease. To them, it’s like this disease doesn’t exist. Many people get a wake-up call when it’s too late to do anything about it. I want to do the right thing while I still can. I'm living proof that you can live for years with this disease. As long as you are living a healthy and positive life, there is nothing to worry about,” he says.