Living in South Africa With AIDS A Personal Story

My name is Gloria Raletsemo, and I am 31 years old. I was a blood donor before my blood was tested. Then one day, a person from the Border Blood Transfusion Service (BBTS) came to my home for my boyfriend's address so that they could go to him for blood. He refused and I tried to urge and convince him, but in vain.

After some time, I was told I have AIDS, and that it kills. It was some time between 1986-1987, I am not precise about the exact year.

I became pregnant with this guy but I had a miscarriage at five months. The relationship broke up after that. I began another relationship in 1988. At that time I knew nothing about how to have "safer" sex. I was just told not to have sex. In short, I also had a baby with this boyfriend in 1993. The baby died at 3 months. He had oral thrush, whooping cough, and anemia (blood without oxygen). I was so upset because the child died in my arms.

Thereafter, I got sick and was taken to hospital. With a temperature of 40º C. (104 degrees Fahrenheit), a high heart rate, I was admitted. At hospital, I was so upset that I could not even recall when I arrived, or what day it was. I was not given anything: no pills, medicine, or injection. I lost the ability to walk, as if I had polio. Then one of the doctors made a silly joke to me saying, "Isn't it nice to have food in bed, and clean clothes?", as if I was there for food not medication. I told them I was not sick, I just needed customary care. The hospital tried to detain me because I am infected. This is common for people with HIV in South Africa.

The first time I walked out of hospital, the security guards let me pass. They thought I was going to buy food because there are vendors by the gate. When I went passed the gate, security chased me for 200 meters and I was taken back to the ward. On the second occasion I went out the window and ran all the way. Nurses and visitors at the hospital chased me. On the run I saw an old man with a beard and long hair and I became afraid. So, I went back, then they caught me. The last escape was when I got up in the early morning, maybe at 4:00 am. I went out of the other gate because it was not locked and had no security. When I went, I met a "tsotsi" who chased me, I cried at the top of my voice. Then an old lady across the road opened her door. I went inside and locked it. Hospital staff came and fetched me.

Afterwards, I was diagnosed with TB but the results were confusing. I was sent to the TB hospital. I was discharged after a week, but given TB treatment for 6 months. I was so thin that my neighbor teased me because of having AIDS. It came to be known by the public because one of the nurses was my neighbor and a drunkard, so she spoke it at the "shebeen". Everywhere I was asked about this virus, but I just gave one answer, "See me the way you want to see me."

In my family, I am the eldest of four daughters. Our father died in October 1992. We are left with my mother who is not working. My younger three sisters have passed "standard ten". I am the only one who attempted it but failed. My younger sister is in her first year at The Teachers College. She is a shoplifter, that's how she managed to go to school. Most of my family refuses to recognize me as a human being. They always tease me. The only person who gives me support and courage is my mother. One day I had a quarrel with my younger sister. She stood by the front door shouting; "Do you think you are a human being? You've got AIDS! You are going to die!" Not knowing what to say, I just replied that I wonder what her situation is. She just said she doesn't have AIDS.

Now, I have decided to come out publicly. I tell my friends whom I know are positive to go to hospital for follow up treatment, and to attend support groups. I will also tell them about what I have experienced and gained from this conference. I will tell them that there is life beyond AIDS. I have lived with this virus for 9 years. I am still going to live for many more years to come, and I am bold about that.

NB (P.S.) You have not heard me talking about condoms. We're facing a big problem with our African boyfriends and men. They DON'T want to use condoms. They interpret it, as if you have had sex with another man. If you don't want him to feel that you have been having sex with another man, then you don't ask him to use a condom.