The Sunday Independent
Nozibele overcomes HIV anguish after six years
Could not tell family for six years as feared how the news would affect her mother
AS THE world commemorates World Aids Day today, it is a particularly significant day to Nozibele Qamngana-Mayaba, 29, who will be observing it for the very first time as a person living openly with HIV. This after spending six years in the “closet”.
Qamngana-Mayaba was diagnosed HIV positive in 2013 and kept it to herself because she didn’t want her family and neighbours to know the “Golden Child” was HIV positive. At the time, she revealed, she couldn’t deal with the pain her mother would go through from learning of her daughter’s status.
It is ironic that at the time of her diagnosis, Qamngana-Mayaba was a rising star at Ubuntu Pathways, a Port Elizabeth based NGO, where she worked with HIV infected and affected children.
As the organisation’s external relations manager, she delivered international talks on the effects of HIV on orphans in her constituency and rallied global support for the organisation.
Yet, she could not bring herself to disclose her own HIV status.
“I couldn’t tell my mom because the truth would kill her. I was a golden child. I was that one kid that parents in our neighbourhood cited as an example when disciplining their children.
“Telling my mom that I was infected with HIV after one encounter with a boy was a bad idea. She was a cleaner at a TB hospital and had encountered many HIV patients at the hospital over many years. Sometimes she would come home traumatised by how many young people were dying right before her eyes from Aids. For me to tell her that I would ‘potentially’ die young was mind-blowing. I couldn’t do it,” said Qamngana-Mayaba.
The secret weighed heavily on her. She said after her diagnosis, she fell pregnant but chose to terminate it because she didn’t want the child to be a reminder of her HIV positive status. After breaking up with her then-boyfriend, who had begun drinking excessively, she went into depression and even contemplated suicide.
“I could not kill myself because I had just bought my mother a house. I didn’t want her to go back to living in a shack because the insurance wouldn’t have paid out,” she said.
Qamngana-Mayaba said she also delayed taking ARVs due to the stigma and psychological effects.
“I delayed taking them because they were going to be a constant reminder that I was HIV positive. There was a psychological part that I needed to first address,” she said, adding that this changed after she had an honest conversation with her doctor who told her that there was nothing to fear about ARVs.
“ARVs are just like any drug, and how you react to them differs from one person to the next. I’ve never been sick or lost weight,” she said.
Two months ago, Qamngana-Mayaba finally broke her silence via her YouTube channel. She said her conscience could no longer allow her to continue portraying herself as a “perfect” person.
The post went viral, and she received immense support from her family, friends and strangers on social media who lauded her for her bold step.
“I wanted to bring about one message that there is nothing as a perfect life. Everyone has a story to tell, and that was my inspiration for coming out. I also have things that I am battling on a daily basis because HIV is such a touchy topic,” said Qamngana-Mayaba, an Alumni Relations and Fundraising Officer at Wits University.
She uses her social media platforms to break the stigma around HIV/Aids and imparts practical advice on how to live life positively with HIV and treat it like any chronic medical condition.
“It breaks my heart that there will be people who discover their HIV positive status on World Aids Day. My message to them is that it is not the end of the world. To those who are HIV negative, this day must be a reminder to them to take care of themselves and not be naïve,” she advised.
When it comes to disclosing one’s HIV positive status publicly, Qamngana-Mayaba warns individuals to first evaluate their reasons for wanting to come out.
“I often tell people the reason for the stigma around HIV is because we care about what people think. So if you want to come out, first ask yourself why you are doing it. If you want to come out so that people can validate you, then don’t do it, and know that the world can be very cruel and harsh. Be sure and confident of why you are doing it, and know that it is your story and no one else’s.”
Qamngana-Mayaba said she is currently writing her memoir titled I am still Me, which chronicles her life’s journey and living with the virus.