I grew up in the backrooms of Linden, my mom is a domestic worker. We had an affordable life, neither rich nor poor; my mom worked hard to make sure there was food on the table and sent us to good schools. I was not very popular because I was a big girl. Being big really played a role in my low self-esteem because I was not considered popular or cool, I remember my friends were skinner than I was and somehow they always got the attention and invites to the parties. I always found myself under their wings just so I can also be considered cool and popular. I remember I would even walk around with my head down, that’s how bad my weight affected my self-esteem and confidence. The one thing that kind of consoled me was the fact that I was very intelligent and had good grades. My parents got divorced at the age of 14, and then I moved to Mpumalanga to my grandparents place. When I moved to Mpumalanga my dream of being popular came true, because I was from Jozi (Johannesburg), speaking English fluently with an accent. I guess I was the hottest thing since sliced bread, or should I say, the big five. For once I was seen as hot and beautiful, something that I never experience back in Jozi. This was the age that I started dating. I basically could have any boy I wanted. I was in grade 9 dating guys in grade 12, something my peers only dreamed of. So that lead to me dating one boy after the other, going to parties, bashes etc. But I was not the type that slept around; it was clean, innocent fun.
In 2007, after moving back to Johannesburg, I met the man who changed my life forever. 17 years old, I thought I knew it all, but I was in a relationship for all the wrong reasons. I dated a celebrity, a kwaito star. It felt good, it was fun and I thought finally my dream would come true; I was going become a famous dancer. How wrong was I? Instead of a dream come true, my worst nightmare began. I had unprotected sexual intercourse with this guy countless times, the biggest mistake of my life. I later discovered that he was HIV positive and he actually went around spreading the virus because he did not want to die alone. He got sick, very sick and being the good girlfriend that I was, I took care of him and cried with him.
I watched him disappear in front of my very eyes. It was hard, took a lot out of me. It was even harder for him since he was in the public eye. He committed suicide. Well in the end I guess he got part of what he wanted, he infected me and many others then he died. But I doubt he died fulfilled, I’m more than sure he died lonely and sad.
I was in denial, I did not even go get tested because I thought I was superior to the virus. I thought it was for prostitutes, those who were sleeping around and those from poor backgrounds. I continued to live my life as normal, as if nothing had happened. Instead of getting tested I continued having sex and if there was no condom I would still go on. Typical of a teen my age, I was drinking and partying like there was no tomorrow. Just living a care free life. I was one of those who would discriminate and stigmatize people who were infected.
In 2009, I met a man, we dated and people would warn him about me. I guess it was because people knew that I had dated someone who had AIDS. People would tell him that I might be sick. So on the 15th of August, the condom burst and he insisted that we get tested. At the back of my mind I knew that the possibility of me being positive was 95 - 100%, but I thought that I would be clean because I did not look sick at all. I got the news that I thought I would never hear in my lifetime, news that changed my life, I was told I was HIV positive. I went home and broke the news to my mom and to my surprise she was very supportive. My boyfriend was also very supportive. But I still did not believe that a "FAT" person like me would be sick. I wanted to go to the nearest tallest building and jump. What was the point of living? I drank pills, tried to commit suicide, but failed, I just got really sick.
My CD4 count was really low, so I started ARV’s. I was told that I am now married to these ARV’s and I will have to take them for the rest of my life.
Not only was I dealing with the fact that I’m now HIV positive, but I was also pregnant! At the same time I was supposed to be preparing for my matric exams. All of this was too much for a young girl. It got worse, seven months into the pregnancy, I got shingles. The pain was unbearable. So much was going in my life at the same time; I couldn’t handle it, I just wanted to die.
On the 21st of May 2010, I gave birth to a healthy beautiful girl, Meekah. She is my pride and joy. A blessing, hence her other name is Tshegofatso. She is my only child, and will never have a sister or a brother since my womb was removed after giving birth due to complications. She is the reason I strive for a better life and success. She is just like me, like mother like daughter. Physically and her personality too. She loves sing and her favourite song is Hao Mathata, a gospel song that means there are no worries
In 2011, things were getting better – I had a job. I was looking good, finally losing a bit of weight, I was not that fat anymore. So I made the biggest mistake of my life, I stopped taking AVR’s, because I thought I didn’t need them anymore. Somehow I had forgotten that I was married to these pills. I guess I divorced them. I was okay for a couple of months, then I was tired all the time and I was not eating right. My feet would get swollen now and then; I had random nose bleeds and lost a bit weight, but wasn’t looking sick. I moved from an L to a M. I guess the signs that something was wrong were all there, but I ignored them. I took a lot of gran-pa and drank a lot of energy drinks. Then one morning things got really bad, I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t walk, I felt paralysed. I was taken to hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia and abdominal TB. I felt I deserved it because I stopped drinking my medication (ARV's). And my family would keep on asking and pleading me to take my medication. My mom would even say that I will regret what I was doing and I will fall sick. And me being hard headed chose not to drink my meds instead I was boozing away and clubbing like nobody's business. I stopped going to church would even say "church is over rated" So I feel I got myself sick and had no one but myself to blame. The pain was so bad that we were willing to any and everything. Some people suggested I drink my own urine and almost did. I started hallucinating; I was seeing my dead grandmother. I was told “ukuthwasa” and I had to be a Sangoma. Just when I thought I was getting better, I had kidney and liver failure. At this stage I was a skeleton. Nothing seemed to work. It was suggested that I go to Selby Hospital. My Mom said no. Now let me tell you a bit about Selby Hospital, everyone that went there never came back. The nurse from next door begged my family to send me to Selby, as they are specialists. Eventually my Mom agreed. Against all odds, I got better. But still could not chill and chat, was still in bed most of the time. I hardly slept though; I was scared I would die. I was vomiting everything I would eat including water. By God’s grace I stated getting better and slowly was regaining my energy and weight.
When I got better, I joined a youth support group at Helen Joseph hospital and that made me realize I was not the only young person living with this virus. In 2012, by the help and support of the group I decided that I wanted to disclose my status. The first time I said, “I’m HIV positive” outside of the support group was at the SAPS Camp for Orphans. The more I spoke about it, the better I felt. The more people I told, I found healing. I decided to disclose because I wanted to help and change lives, especially those of young people. I felt that motivational speakers living with HIV were older and we young people could not relate and as such could not listen to their advice on how to live positive and healthy lives because of the age difference. I’m working on opening a foundation with five other young people who are infected and affected with the virus. This foundation will strictly be working with the youth and we want to call it, “WE ARE THE YOUTH FOR THE YOUTH”. Our main focus is HIV/AIDS, but we also look at all issues that are affecting the youth, for example, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, youth unemployment and rape. Fighting the stigma and discrimination towards infected youth. Also have workshops in schools where we train some of the learners to be peer educators, we want to leave them with something they can also work with. I’ve been interviewed by Thami Ngubeni on her show called Life with Thami on Metro FM. I also do school talks with SLEF, Sibusiso Leope Education Foundation founded by DJ Sbu. I'm working on having a TV show and documentary. I feel we should start bringing Good Stories on HIV/AIDS on camera. I want to travel South Africa and the world to meet young people who are also living positively positive. The only way to fight stigma and discrimination is if we speak about Omzala (HIV) and share Good Stories. I believe it’s possible for us to have a discrimination and stigma free nation. As a woman who’s been to hell and back, I would like to host my own radio talk show, which will be dealing HIV/AIDS related issues only. I'm going write a book of my journey. We all have stories to tell and its time we birth our own books and share our struggles and achievements with the world. Produce a movie about my life and get "Terry Pheto" to play me *giggles* Someday open a cosmetic boutique. Who knows what else I might end up doing I have great plans for my future, but in my journey I have learnt that God has plans for my life so where ever he leads I will follow. .
I haven’t had much luck in this department. It’s harder to find love for a person who is HIV positive and is honest about it. I always share my status when a man shows a bit of interest, so they know what they are getting themselves into. Sadly it doesn’t work out best most times. I’m not willing to settle. Like most women I want the fairy-tale with, prince charming, the chocolate, be sent flowers, being dined, someone to opens doors for me, who rubs my feet after a long day, tells me I’m beautiful. I pray for someone who will love me for who I am and not what I am, someone who will love Lebogang for Lebohang and not someone who will pity me because of my status. I want truthfulness, laughter, loyalty, honesty, understanding, compassion, shared values, and tolerate each other’s flaws. Someone who will find perfection in my flaws and flaws in my perfection. And if you are that person you can call me on 071_2_3_4_ *wink*
I still remain Lebogang Brenda Motsumi. I’m a mother, daughter, a sister, friend, a God fearing women, HIV speaker, HIV coach, HIV activist, an aspiring business women, producer, radio presenter. I am everything that is stamped in my mind; I am everything that my heart desires. I'm young, beautiful, intelligent, sexy and I am HIV Positive.