August 15, 2003 — As fate would have it, during the apartheid era I religiously believed that the future or lack thereof for people living with HIV, lay in our own hands.
During that brutal and institutionalized form of segregation, the ball was in the court of those who were oppressed and who subsequently made a conscious and courageous effort to defy the enforcers of a system which was to be universally known as a crime against humanity.
Our greatest leaders, across the political, racial, religious, ethnic and economic spectrum, took the bull by the horns.
I am certain there is absolutely no need to re-quote Madiba's* closing speech, which was supposed to be his last utterance as living human being at the Rivonia treason trial.
(*Note: Millions of South Africans refer to Nelson Mandela as "Madiba," which is Mandela's Xhosa clan name and literally means grandfather.)
However, in the interest of this column and to drive home my point, indulge me.
Madiba said, "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination.
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
According to Professor André Brink from the University of Cape Town, Madiba's statement from the dock "was destined to smolder in the homes and servant quarters, the shacks and shebeeens and hovels of the oppressed, and to burn in the conscience of the world."
In this day and age, the last paragraph of that specific speech has also served to expose the cruel and selfish nature of those who assumed political power before and after him.
Today, our elected political leaders are both too sophisticated and too superficial. The fact that 600 people, largely African people, die from HIV-related infections on a daily basis does not seem to have a bearing on their consciences.
Last year, according to UNAids reports, 3.1 million died and 2.1 million people of those unnecessary AIDS deaths were in Africa. The grave fact that 10 million people between the ages of 15-24 and almost 3 million children under the age of 15 live with HIV, does not seem to be a matter of urgency for them.
According to Allister Sparks' new book titled "Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa," even those who occupy offices in the higher echelons of an AIDS-ridden society are not prepared to lead by example.
Most politicians choose not to learn anything from their own, and our greatest, leaders.
Some, such as the populist ANC politician Peter Mokaba, and Parks Mankahlana, who served both Madiba and President Thabo Mbeki, denied the existence of AIDS. They rejected the promoted use of anti-retroviral drugs as a means of prolonging the lives of those living with HIV.
The status quo prevailed despite escalating and prevalent knowledge that both were living with HIV.
In Mokaba's case, there was even a self-proclaimed traditional healer who divulged that he had treated him prior to his permanent departure, using a homemade concoction known as umbimbi.
It is against this visible lack of leadership, vision and commitment to the cause and the lives of those living with HIV, that I believe that our freedom from the shackles of imminent death lies in our own capable hands.
If we are a massive community of more than 5 million people living with HIV, numerically meaning there are more than 30 million people who are affected by this epidemic. We can win this battle for life.
No one can afford to discriminate and to dismiss our most pertinent issues based on cost and other inconsequential and inconsistent reasons — even our president cannot do that.
We must rise up, defy the social ills and stand up for our right to life. Aluta continua! ("Fare thee well!")
Next: Prepare for Death — It's the Least We Can Do
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