34 years after I was gang raped and got HIV, I'm healthy and happy. It's not easy, but it's possible

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On World Aids Day, Mimi Tshandu shares her story and wants women to know that they can change their narrative and live healthy, happy lives with HIV. Photo by Getty Images
On World Aids Day, Mimi Tshandu shares her story and wants women to know that they can change their narrative and live healthy, happy lives with HIV. Photo by Getty Images
  • On World World Aids Day Mimi Tshandu share how she and another woman were raped by six men when Mimi was a Grad 8 learner.
  • She contracted HIV from the experience.
  • However, today, she's a happy mother of three beautiful children who know about her status.
  • She wants her story to inspire women and let them know that "you are not your past, you can be a survivor and change your narrative."

Mimi recalls how a day that was supposed to be spent with her friend during the December holidays of 1986 turned out to be one of the worst days of her life.

"We were approached by six guys. I was planning on ignoring them but then I heard a gunshot and immediately stopped, fearing that I might get shot,'' Mimi says.

"I thought of finding a way to escape this ordeal but I couldn't as somehow all the gates of the houses that we were passing were all closed [as they took us away] so my plan of running away wasn't going to work. I also thought they would probably shot me if I tried to run because everyone seemed scared of the ring leader."

The women taken to a tavern in Zondi, Soweto, where the rape happened outside the yard.

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The next thing Mimi knew is that she was home but she didn't recall how she got there because she was intoxicated from a drink that was laced with drugs that had been given to her by the rapists.

rape, HIV, aids, world aids day
Mimi Tshandu contracted HIV after she was gang raped when she was a school girl. Photos supplied by Mimi Tshandu 

"It turns out that I was put in a taxi and as I was walking back home I fainted about three houses away from my house. My clothes were torn, there was sand in my hair and I was full of blood. Luckily I was found by a lady who lives three houses away from my place and she took me home because she knew me," Mimi says.

"Everyone at home was stunned to see my condition. My dad then suggested that they take me to the police station to open a case. When we got there, I related my story but not properly because I was weak, drunk and high off whatever drug was put in that drink. A bunch of police officers said I was lying because I know the guys who raped me, one was probably even my boyfriend, and I deserved it. But to our luck, there was one police officer who wanted to help us and suggested that I go back home to rest, but my family must make sure I shouldn't bath or do anything to the clothes I was wearing."

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On the day after the incident, Mimi was accompanied by the police to identify the the men and three were arrested while the ring leader, who was the most wanted because of past cases of rape, escaped.

"The aftermath of this affected me so much because I could no longer live the life I used to live. The friends of these guys would come to my school and wait for me outside. My then-boyfriend had to fetch me every day after school to accompany me back home. I also had to change schools at least three times and even had to move to my aunt's house," says Mimi.

On top of everything that Mimi had to deal with regarding the rape ordeal, she found out she was HIV positive and pregnant with twins. "I wanted to give up, but I told myself I have to live for my twins because they need me,'' she says, admitting that she was young and being told she's not just pregnant but also HIV positive seemed impossible to overcome.

READ MORE: “My HIV diagnosis forced me to face my destructive habits”

Mimi started seeing a psychiatrist and learnt how to talk more about her experience, which helped her to deal with it.

"I also feel that the most important thing about finding out my status is that I didn't go into denial. If I did, I would've probably passed away like my late sister. Accepting your status helps you to gain the strength to fight this and want to live longer," she says, adding that she took the necessary steps in ensuring that her two oldest children are safe and not infected.

"I want people to stop thinking that having HIV is the end of the world because it's not. I'm living proof that you can live longer and you can look healthy. Most people don't believe me when I tell them I'm HIV positive because of how fresh and healthy I look," she laughs.

"I'm very open about my experience, as I want people to see that you are not your past. You can be a survivor if you want to live another day and change your narrative. It's not easy, but you can do it."

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