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Activist reflects on her 10-year HIV journey

HIV positive social activist and entreperneur Lebogang Brenda Motsumi shares her reflections on her 10 year journey of living with HIV.

By Lebogang Motsumi

Growing up I was very insecure about my looks and my weight…that then lead me to live a life of seeking approval from men.

I broke my virginity at the age of 13, all in the name of fitting in and it made me feel I am now a real woman. I started drinking…..smoking….I did everything to be recognised as the popular kid in school. Got pregnant and delivered a baby boy. My son was discharged from ICU….a month later I woke up and he had turned blue and very cold. He passed away…..Yes I was hurt but I felt a sense of relief. Only moaned him years later.

I continued with life… I then fell pregnant 3 times after that to 2 different guys and got an abortion each time…..I used that as my prevention method.

I then meet this guy….celebrity (His name is not important) when he asked me to his girlfriend I went crazy and thought to myself ” I have made it in life” this was someone I grew up seeing on TV and hearing on Radio.

When I met him he had lost a lot of weight….but said he had just finished TB treatment which made a lot of sense….like who was I to diagnose him with HIV…..anyway I thought I was above the virus

I felt my background….growing up in the suburbs etc made me superior to HIV. We starting having sex…..never ever used a condom and my silly mind just wanted to get pregnant with his child……was seeing myself on newspaper headlines etc so I thought having no condom, it’s ok.

We had sex at my moms house….in his car at the roof of Hyde Park Corner…….like it was a sexual lituation wabona moes.

So for some reason we lost contact and he disappeared……kanti he was ill…found out months later when he called and asked me to buy the paper on Sunday.

Sunday first page had him and written ”So and So dying from AIDS.” I was like ok whatever. Meanwhile I am fresh….big thighs.. and all…..I can’t be HIV positive, I thought.

I had given HIV a face of someone skinny….loosing hair…..dry mouth etc . I Went to visit him sometime and yoh he didn’t look very good…..he was really ill. Few months after he passed away.

I continued with my life…..around 2009 I met the father of my child….and he was telling me there are rumours that I might be HIV positive because of my previous relationship with Mr so and so. He then advised we get tested. I did and was found HIV positive.

I was in denial for about two years. A month after finding out about my status I found out that I was pregnant. I went to the clinic they repeated the HIV test and it came out still positive.

I was then told I have to start HIV treatment immediately, to help protect my unborn child and myself as my CD4 count was very low. I took my medication out of fear, not out of acceptance and understanding, why I have to and why it is important. I then defaulted from my treatment, meaning I stopped taking my medication, that then lead me to falling ill and ending up on my death bed.

It is after the six months of being ill that I accepted my status because of how I looked, I had lost so much weight, at some point I could not walk, bath myself or feed myself. I had AIDS and that is when I accepted that I am indeed infected with the virus.

My HIV Infection helped me find my purpose in life. Crazy, right? But it’s so true. After making it out of my death bed and going through counselling and getting support from family and friends, I then realised that I went through all that for a reason. I realised that I can turn my mess into a message, and use my pain to empower other people.

I have been able to travel around Africa and the US just to share my story, and help influence policy makers in discussions they make towards HIV prevention. I have been honoured by the African Union as Youth hero 2015, and I sit as a board member for an international organisation which works on HIV prevention.

With all the great new interventions on HIV Prevention yes, we will find the cure to HIV. While we try find a cure the education and empowerment of people living with HIV is our cure. And the prevention for those who are HIV negative.

Ms Lebogang Motsumi is based in South Africa.

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