Well I’ve always been someone who’s out there, a go getter, Dimakatso, sephaphi, being forward and wanting to be the first to do anything. Back on campus, 2002, drama class at the Market Theatre laboratory, my favourite lecturer, the late Ramolao Makhene was preaching about how everyone should test and know their status. So ngokuphaphake, I told everybody in my class that I was going to test. And of course the question of, “what if the results came back positive, what are you going to do?” To which I answered, “Positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, I’ll still be the same Dimakatso I am right now”, the only difference is that I will know my status. Johannesburg hospital, and so I tested. Back then the results took about two weeks to come back, two weeks was long, but I wasn’t worried. I remember the day I had to get my results and the sister who was assisting me asked me what I would do if the results are positive, I gave her the same answer I gave to my peers and I will never forget what she said to me. She said it’s people like you who live longer. She then showed me my results. I was HIV positive. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my boyfriend. Back then they didn’t give you a copy of your results; I think they didn’t want people to just leave these things lying around for people to see. So I had to beg her to give me a copy. I wanted people to believe me when I tell them I’m HIV positive. Well I had to; my class mates had been expecting it. I didn’t want people to spread rumours about me as well, so I wanted to disclose almost immediately. It wasn’t easy. Now I had to face by boyfriend of nine months, Senzo, who I was staying with. A hunk of a man, yo Senzo was handsome, ngim’thanda. “How did it go?” he asked. “I’m positive” … “So if wena uPositive, kusho ukuthi nami ngi positive”. This was a safe assumption because Senzo and I were not using condoms. There’s no need for me to test, he said. Right then I became a counsellor, telling him about the risks involved if he doesn’t test. That just because I was infected doesn’t automatically mean he was, I could have been the carrier and there were possibilities that he wasn’t infected. In any case, Senzo wasn’t shocked, not alarmed, not upset, it was as if he was expecting it. It was strange. And my friends expected me to be angry with Senzo; after all, he could have infected me. But I took responsibility and didn’t blame anyone. I, we should have been more responsible. Not blaming Senzo was easy for me, because I had a secret of my own. Something I had never told anybody. Something that was buried in my heart. Something I had never dealt with. Something that could have possibly changed my life forever. I could have infected him. See, I was date rapped at the age of 19, so I might have been infected the. So Senzo and I continued to date, supported each other, and after all, all we had now was each other. Planned the rest of our lives together. We were in love, we were happy. I felt loved, but it was just a trap. I would say “life happened”, money came in the picture, and Senzo bought a new car. I wasn’t really happy for him, I couldn’t be happy for him because we were drifting apart. Saw less and less of him and eventually he wasn’t taking my calls. We were not staying together anymore because of school and other reasons. Only to find ukuthi vele wajola. I was devastated. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re losing the love of your life. The only person you want to be with. I needed someone to talk to. Thoughts of suicide – what’s life without Senzo? A couple of months later, after the break up, Senzo had moved on and was staying with another woman, not sure if she knew of his status. I was told that Senzo had died. Senzo didn’t die of HIV related sicknesses, Senzo was shot. Senzo’s death helped me to pick up my life again. Senzo’s death gave me the strength to move on. Senzo’s death helped me realise that life was too short and I had to make the most of the limited time I had. Or the limited time I thought I had.
My disclosure outside my then boyfriend Senzo started literally the day after I had received my results, back at school I told my two crazy friends, Blondie and Foxi. Blondie and Foxi took the news worse than I did. And since I had told everyone I was going to test, I wanted to tell everyone the results, but they advised against it. “Don’t tell anyone, yet” they said. They were so adamant that I shouldn’t tell anybody that eventually I listened. I think I did it to protect them more than anything else. Protect them from being associated with someone who’s HIV positive. But I struggled with this, because I’m not a good liar. It was easier to keep quite since no one was brave enough to ask me the outcome. Days, weeks went by, it was eating me up inside. One day I told my drama lecturer. Then the director of the school, she was an old white Jewish lady, Vanessa Cooke. She was very sympathetic. I just didn’t like it when people started those pity talks, because I was fine. Then I had to tell Ma‐Mokoena, Grace Mokoena, who was like a mother to me. She was my manager at the time, as student we used to work at the Market Theatre as ushers in the evenings. We were really close. We shared a lot of things, she was the mother I never had and she’d introduce me as her daughter to her friends. She took it really bad, “No, not you” she cried. She broke down. I didn’t know what to do or how to deal with this. Again, I became a counsellor. She didn’t even ask who infected me, she assumed it was Senzo. The fact that I was strong, strong for the both of us made it easier for her to accept. She put herself in my shoes; she walked this path with me. She was amazing. The more people I told, the more it was easier to deal with. It felt like this burden, this weight was sharply reduced from my shoulders. I became stronger the more I disclosed. In dribs and drabs, I eventually told everyone that was close to me, except my mom and my dad. So my disclosure, in phases, sometimes unplanned, it would just happen. I’d be sitting with people and the conversation of HIV and AIDS comes up, some people would start saying negative things and I’d be forced to jump in to correct them and end up telling them about my status. Always came as a shock. But I was strong, when I told someone I was ready to be there for them and tell them it was going to be okay, as if they were carrying the virus. I think it was the shock. Telling my dad was really hard. I am his only child and he had hopes of a mkhwenyana (son in law) and grand children, I had to tell him not to have high expectations of that happening, since people were very scare to date someone who was HIV positive at the time. Like every parent, he wanted the best for his daughter. He was heartbroken. But like a man, he pretended to be strong. He excused himself, and I was left in his living room with his new wife. I strongly believe he went outside to cry. About 15 minutes later, he returned and said he will support me in any way that I want him to. I could see this was really hard for him. Poor man. I told my aunt and grand ma at the same time. God has a plan, grand ma said. “How could this be happening to both us” my aunt cried. She was diagnosed a couple of years before me. She wasn’t as strong as I was, she broke down when she found out about my status. I supported her the best way I could. She wasn’t on medication, because of all the things that the medication did to your body. And what kind of medication that you had to take for the rest of your life? So, she became sick, really sick, on her death bed. She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t do anything. She’d just sit there in the sun the whole day, then sleep. I couldn’t go home to see her. I felt like I would be going home to see myself in the future. I couldn’t bring myself to doing it. The fear of seeing myself in her. It tore her apart. Eventually I did. She needed me. I said to her she needed to fight, fight because I couldn’t take care of her three children. They need their mother. And she fought, started the medication and she’s alive today. Another Good Story. I only told my mother in 2010, I wasn’t ready for her reaction before then. Almost everybody knew, even strangers, but not my mom. I thought it was time for her to find out, and at the time I was ready for any kind of reaction. What made it easier for her to accept is because of all the things she had gone through with her sister and the voluntary work she had done as a care giver. The timing was right and her reaction was positive.
I disclosed before anything happened. Before the first kiss. A guy would show a bit of interest and I would tell him, so that he knows exactly what he’s getting himself into. I dated a couple of guys, but there’s been one particular relationship that really affected me negatively and taught me a lot of positive things at the same time. His name was Tshepo, from Limpopo. He came from one of the villages there; he was from a poor background, from nothing and made something of himself. He had his life planned out – he’ll study, get a job, buy a house, get a wife, have kids and live happily ever after. When I met Tshepo, he had just bought a house, so part of his plan was really coming together. And off course we hit it off, told him about my status and everything was fine. We were really happy. Or so it seemed. Tshepo had bought his house, has a girlfriend that he loves and now on to the next phase of his life, kids. Back then I thought I could never have kids, and that’s when the problems started. One day Tshepo comes home from work and tells me that there’s a woman that he works with that he would like to have a baby by. Okay, I thought to myself … I calmly asked him if he knew this woman’s status. Of which I received an uncertain response, “yes”. I reminded him that there aren’t too many people like me out there who will be honest enough about their statuses and who will protect you like I have. It was the things that Tshepo said to me on a daily basis that really broke me down. I think he wanted to leave me, but didn’t know how. He’d say stupid things like, he’s afraid of getting really close to me, because the people he gets close to die. By getting close to me, was he talking marriage? I wasn’t sure, I just he was talking a load of nonsense. So this baby thing and all the stuff this man was saying to me really got to me and for the first time since I had been diagnosed I fell apart. I fed on negativity. Started thinking of myself as less of a woman. I would look at all the people around wherever I was and I would think I’m the only one whose HIV positive and everyone else is negative. This went on weeks, months until one day I just burst out crying at work and no one understood why. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t eat. Lost weight. Was contemplating suicide. I was at my worst. And one person that was there for me was Ma‐ Mokoena. She was with me at my weakest. I went for counselling and was told that the problem was I had never really dealt with this HIV thing, I was too busy being strong and taking care of other people, I never allowed people to take care of me. It had to come, eventually. I had to make a decision, it was hard, but for my health and my life, I had to leave Tshepo. He tried to be there for me so we stayed as friends. He moved on with his life and was dating a woman that shared my name, Dimakatso. I was told they were planning a life together and he had even paid lobola for her. I was happy for him, he finally found a woman that could give him everything he wanted. Couple of years later, his brother told me that Tshepo had passed on. I was heartbroken. He had a heart attack. He went to bed and never woke. But here’s the interesting part, Tshepo’s brother told me that the fiancé (Dimakatso) was apparently HIV positive and never told him about her status, and somehow Tshepo found out. As sad as I was to hear this, I wanted to wake him up and ask him, “What did I say to you?” Oh my husband, my husband, God sent. He is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. We, my husband and I truly believe our marriage is an arranged marriage, arranged by God. Arranged marriage because we never really dated, azange sijole, the first time we physically met, we had already been talking marriage. He likes to say, “Modimo o mbetcheditse” He never proposed. He never went down on one knee and asked me to marry him. The moment I saw him, I knew he was the man for me and he knew the same. Just like the story of Isaac, Genesis 24 in the bible. We go the same church, different branches, him in Botswana and I’m in South Africa. And one day, he added me as a friend on facebook. We were commenting on each others’ facebook statuses, then it moved on to facebook messages, then phone calls and SMS’es to happily ever after.
Life in general wasn’t easy at home, second born of three kids. We all had different fathers and none of them were involved in our lives. Mom was never happy, she was angry all the time. Hence I couldn’t tell her about the rape. She would have said it was my fault anyway. I remember, at the age of 14 – 16, a crucial age in any girls’ life, Mom and I were not talking to each other. Mom wasn’t there for me so I had to survive and find answers to a lot of questions on my own. But I understood why my mom was the way she was, I always try to find “logic” in peoples behaviours and I had given myself reasons why mom was the way she was and it helped me cope. There was no greater pain, than the pain I had growing up. I’m grateful though, it prepared me for all the things that I later had to deal with in life.
I put God first in everything, and I have a positive mind‐set. But on a practical note I we have a
program at church called NEW START, it is an acronym which stands for:
- N – Nutrition (Eat lots of fruits and vegetables)
E – Exercise (Even if it means take the stairs instead of using the lift)
W – Water (Try to drink 8 glasses a day)
S – Sunlight (15minutes exposure to the sun in a day)
T – Temperance (Do things in moderation)
A – Air (fresh air)
R – Rest (Sleep 8 hours every night if possible)
T – Trust in God (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)
And I try to stay happy at all times; you know the Bible says “A cheerful heart doeth good like