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My experiences, my knowledge, my advice

Zonwabele Tshayana

I am rather too young to have a runner like this for a contribution. As I'm writing this, on 30th November 2004, I'm 8 912 days old (in simple language, 24 years, 4 months, 23 days, 7 hours 23 minutes), and that should mean I'm still too young to claim any past drastic experiences. But I beg to differ. Experiences come not only to those who are old, but also to people who are destined to taste what life is at a very tender age. I happen to belong to the latter category. I'm not blowing my own trumpet or dialling 08me, I'm just pointing out the fact that I've gone through some difficulties in my life, and I'm proud of who I am today because of those challenges.

At a very young age, at 6 to be exact, I went through what is now termed physical abuse. A relative of mine, who was supposed to have protected me, would beat me up for no apparent reason. He would beat me up for not washing his underwear after he had taken a bath. He would beat me up for reporting his actions to the elders. He would beat me up for failing to fetch him water when he woke up. He would beat me up and make me not to sleep at home just for acting like the kid I was. Funny enough, he is just nine years my senior. The fact is that he was the last born from my mother's family, and I was now taking all the attention he was used to getting. To him, it seemed as if he was no longer loved by his brothers and sisters - everyone was taken by this young nephew. He doubted the love of his parents, who seemed more interested in their first grandson. At the time, I felt all the pain, and for years to follow, the scars wouldn't heal.

It took courage from deep within me to deal with all the anger, disappointment, resentment and hatred I felt towards him. I came to realise that no matter how hard I tried to make him see that he was wrong, he would never apologise, not even when he was facing death and the apology was the only thing that could hold back his death. I came to realise that, by not feeling protected at the time he was doing all those things, I developed a very resistant shell that is so heavy - few, if any, missiles of life would be able to penetrate its armoury. That shell is the one that was rather starting to create a monster within me, until the day I decided to put it aside and learn to face life head on. Today, I'm free because I am no longer expecting him to apologise to me, for I know that I would be waiting till I went to my grave. The only apology he can make is to himself, for acting like that when he was supposed to protect me. He should apologise to himself for failing to act as a true big brother, because that's how I saw him. I decided to forgive him, but never to forget what happened, so that I would never do it to someone else. It must be a reminder of who I am and where I come from.

Growing up not knowing my biological father also took its toll on me. I do not belittle my mother's accomplishment of raising me alone; actually, I commend her and her brothers and sisters for the work they did. But a father's place is always there; even if you have never seen or heard anything about your father, the fact that you know he's out there has an effect on you. There was a time when my uncles wanted so much to fill the void of my not knowing my father, but no matter how hard they tried, they could not fill it up, there was always some space. My uncles actually took me as their younger brother, but I grew up knowing that I was their nephew.

I started doing drugs, abusing alcohol, smoking cigarettes and dagga, just to spite the father I never knew. At the time I only needed my father to say that he was there, and that I should stop what I was doing. Other kids would come to me and tell me that their fathers told them not to do this and that; I also wanted to experience that.

I so wanted him to come that I did all bad things, including stealing and involving myself with car thieves. I thought that if I did those things he would hear from his colleagues at work that his son was a criminal. I thought policemen in the former Transkei knew one another. I just thought that, somehow, he would hear about my actions and come to me. How stupid, basing my life on someone I had never seen or known. Someone who never even tried to visit.

I was a very ungrateful little bastard, acting like a spoilt brat whose life was fucked up by drugs. I was friends with kids whose dads had money, because my mom's partner is a well-off man. I was such a rebel that at times, in a desperate move, my uncles would tell me that they have given up on me. That would slow me down a bit, but within no time I would revert to my old ways. Womanising, dagga, alcohol, cigarettes and partying were my newfound hobbies that I couldn't live without. Being an "Igintsa", I always had money. I pampered and showered a lot of women with gifts and cash. Fuck that life! And fuck the people who thought I'd never amount to anything in life. Today I am working and I'm trying to build a life and a future for myself.

The only thing I got out off all the craziness was to get infected with HIV. Whenever I tell people about my status, I always say it has been eight years, but I'm not really sure. I only knew then, but I have no proof that I got infected eight years ago. I made all the wrong choices, went down the wrong lanes, chilled in all the wrong alleys and balconies. Life fucked me up, after I fucked it myself.

I nearly lost all hope, but then I realised that Life is all about doing something with yourself and for yourself at a period when you really feel like quitting. Life is about making sure that you don't just learn from your mistakes, but you also turn them into steps for your ladder to success. I am very proud of what I have achieved since I've known my HIV status. I have done a lot for myself, my family, my community and my country. Damn! I'm proud of the fact that I don't have to hide when I see a police van, just because I used to drive stolen cars, or I assisted in chopping them into spares, or even assisted in scouting for companies that did not have proper security in the premises where they kept their vehicles.

I'm proud of the fact that I'm still alive today and educating and motivating other young people to stick to the right path. As I write this, tomorrow is World AIDS Day, and I have been invited by the South African Police Services in Butterworth to be a speaker at their World AIDS Day commemoration. On the 2nd I'll be speaking at a regional event organised by the Department of Correctional Services. I have made a life and a name for myself. From 2nd to 26th November I was involved in a road show organised by the Premier's office and other departments in the province, educating government employees about the HIV and AIDS workplace policy and what it entails. How they can use it to their benefit, and also encouraging men to come out and talk about their statuses.

I've been given another lease in life, and I'm going to utilise it. Why, then, can't you utilise yours to better your future and to make a difference in this world? Why can't you change your ways and believe that to stick to what you know will not backfire at the end of the day? Through positive attitudes, we shall come out victors.



LitNet: 1 December 2004

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