Minister tells how Aids rips his family apart
LABOUR Minister Membathisi Mdladlana has poured his heart out to the Daily Dispatch over his family�s Aids agony.
Speaking during an exclusive interview in East London last Friday, Mdladlana told how he had now lost three close family members to the disease, while another six � and probably more � are infected with HIV.
A day later he was in Keiskammahoek, standing at the graveside of his nephew Sidima Mdladlana, 47, paying his final respects to the family�s latest victim of the scourge.
Sidima died of Aids complications a week earlier, a year after losing his wife to the disease.
�He was drinking himself to death � it got worse after his wife died,� said Mdladlana during Friday�s interview.
Sidima, he continued, was slowly rotting. His fingernails were peeling off and his body was riddled with sores. �But he continued drinking.�
After the Aids-related death of his niece, Ntombizine Mdladlana, in 2006 the family agreed to go public in an attempt to educate the community.
About her death, he said: �It was unbelievable, so fast.
�First it was just a headache, and then to hospital, where they discovered the virus, but they said they would treat TB first. Then there was meningitis, and the combination of TB and meningitis was bad. By the time I went to see her she couldn�t talk. She was thin; then she died.�
Ntombizine�s funeral was used as a platform to discuss Aids, and to drive an awareness campaign in the community. �In the midst of joblessness and poverty, there is a lot of of sexual activity in the community.�
A Department of Health team, complete with mobile clinics, was at Ntombizine�s funeral with rapid testing facilities, and among the people tested were Mdladlana�s family members. �And a number of them were found to have the virus,� said the minister. Some were extended family, while others were nieces and nephews.
�Others had died before that, but people did not want to talk. It scared me to the extent that I thought we would be burying a lot of people.�
A year later, when his nephew�s wife died, they knew Sidima would be going soon, he said.
Sidima was ostracised by, and discriminated in, his community. �Because he was open about his status he suffered,� said Mdladlana. �He was not allowed to drink from the same beer canister. Nobody wanted to place their lips where he had placed his.�
Since then a number of family members had come forward after testing positive. �It�s quite a big chunk now. I know of half a dozen close to me.� It could be even more: others had not disclosed their status and some refused to be tested.
Mzikazi Mdladlana-Nteyi, the minister�s niece, said using funerals to raise awareness was a way of giving back to the community. �Between 2006 and today we have become bolder and stronger. Once we got over the initial haggles of going public we have sought to become role models in the community, using our own experience to reach others.�
DAILY DESPATCH 13th October 2008