Biography 09: AIDS in South Africa

There was someone whose name, if I remember correctly, was Santana or Santanaya (George Santayana) – a person of great wisdom indeed. This Santana or Santanaya spoke the following words: “If people fail to learn from history they will always repeat history’s mistakes.“Upon this planet all living entities – be they birds or animals or even human beings – are given an important ability by the Creator, which is to learn from experience and on learning, to survive the angry night and the roaring storms of existence upon this world. But many of us, supposedly civilized human beings, appear to be losing this very important God-given talent. We no longer appear to have the capacity to learn. We take it for granted that we are intelligent beings. We take it for granted that we know many things – but the fact is that we know nothing or next to nothing and that we seldom learn, we human beings, from experience. When things happen we tend to forget them and because of our having forgotten them we tend to make mistakes – mistakes that cost us our lives mistakes that cost us our happiness, mistakes that even threaten the existence of the very earth, which has nurtured and cherished us for so many millions of years.

Today a hideous pandemic known as Aids is sweeping through South Africa today we are told that four million people, our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, our fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen are already contaminated by Aids and are living with it. Hundreds of people have died since Aids appeared in South Africa some 20 or 21 years ago. The bony hand of Aids has snuffed out hundreds of our brightest stars, our young intellectuals, our young leaders, and the number of deaths is increasing fast. For some reason Aids, which was said to be a slow killer has become even more vicious than before and is killing our people with amazing speed. Today every person who dies of an illness is immediately suspected of having died of an Aids related illness. But that is not all. The name Aids carries with it a stigma a brand of shame so dark and terrible and intense I can only liken it to the kind of stigma that societies in Africa and in ancient Israel placed upon the shoulders of those unfortunate people that suffered from leprosy. A lot of empty lip service is being paid in Sa today to the fact that everybody should fight to remove the stigma that is attached to Aids. But actually very little is being done to bring this about and the entities that caused this terrible stigma namely the newspapers and other news media are doing next to nothing to de-stigmatise Aids. They started it all and they should put it right. When Aids first appeared it was said to be a disease of drug-takers and homosexuals. People who are looked down upon by holier-than-thou sections of our society. Suddenly we were told that Aids was a heterosexual disease, apart from being a homosexual one, and that it attacked even those people who thought that they were leading clean and God-fearing lives. It is the news media that should correct this dreadful mistake for they were the instruments of it spreading when this disease first came to existence. It is spoken by our people in this proverb that he who has farted inside the chieftain’s great house should find perfumed herbs to burn in the fireplace and take away the smell – and this proverb I throw at the feet of newspapers, not only in this South Africa, but in other parts of the world as well. You started this rot, you farted in the chief’s house – now please find perfumed herbs and burn them to take away your stench. I am an old man, closely approaching my eightieth year and over my head the angry years have passed like water over the wall of a dam. I have seen many things and I can tell you from my e as well. You started this rot, you farted in the chief’s house – now please find perfumed herbs and burn them to take away your stench. I am an old man, closely approaching my eightieth year and over my head the angry years have passed like water over the wall of a dam. I have seen many things and I can tell you from my experience that what we are seeing in South Africa is really something new but rather a repetition of history brought about by people who have failed to learn history’s lessons. Today in South Africa we talk about the disease called Aids, which we are told there, is no cure for. We are further told about how expensive are the medicines for combating Aids are and lastly, we are told about Aids orphans – Oh, I have seen them – the pathetic little waifs, the scatterlings left upon the cruel road of history by a disease that knows no pity. I have seen children already marked by the claws of Aids -children who will not see their fifty years of life. Children who will be torn away from the arms of our motherland by Aids and hurled into the dark night of death without every having known what life really is and what life is about. I have seen wasted little children, many of them hardly more than skeletons – children whose mothers and fathers have already died of Aids. I have seen this and much more. I have seen the horrible impact that Aids is having on our people’s family life. I have seen how Aids is separating men from wives, child from parent. I have seen that and much, much more, but within my swollen heart bloated with old age a voice, a grave voice from yesterday keeps on saying to me. “Mutwa, you have seen all this before. Your country and your people have gone through much of this before. Much of what we see happening in South Africa today is not new but has happened before and the people of our country failed miserably to learn from that.”

What am I talking about? There was once a time in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s when Tuberculosis was just as deadly a killer of our people as Aids is today – in those days Tuberculosis was known as Consumption and any black person who was told by doctors that he or she had Consumption reacted exactly as black people who are told that they have got Aids do today. The person knew in those days before streptomycin and other magic anti-Tuberculosis drugs that a sentence of death had been passed by some angry god over him or her and that he or she must silently and with as much courage as possible await the dark Angel of Death’s coming. There was once a time in my country’s history when diseases such Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, which had been brought into Africa by people from Europe, were as deadly and incurable as Aids is today. If Aids today has created thousands of Aids orphans then, my friends, so did Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and Tuberculosis. Those people who are complaining about how expensive anti-Aids drugs are should listen to what I have to tell them now. In olden days there were crude medicines, which were used against Syphilis, Gonorrhoea and such like diseases. Most of these medicines were in the form of pills – ugly, round black coloured things, which were made of mercury. I remember them well. These pills were priced right out of the lives of grass-route level Africans. I remember that some unscrupulous white doctors of those times used to demand two cows for a tinful of these mercury pills. Pills, which eventually drove the user mad – pills which tanned the teeth of those who used them over a time as black as those of goats. Very few of our people could afford these mercury tablets. Even more expensive, were much later preparations created for the combating of venereal disease. I remember one such preparation known as 606 or Salvasan. These tablets were out of reach of our people and many, many people died horrible deaths, hideously disfigured by Syphilis, hideously mutilated by Gonorrhoea because they could not afford those silver bullets of those times. In those days, as is the case today, people were filled with a massive hysteria regarding diseases such as Tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. It is one of the most brutal facts of our country’s history that in those days, if a farmer learned that one of his black labourers had contracted either Gonorrhoea, Syphilis or even Tuberculosis that while farmer became frightened that these diseases would, somehow be transmitted to members of his own family and he used to take the black man or woman away from his farm on the pretext of taking him or her to “a good doctor” in a nearby town and when the farmer and his worker reached an isolated spot the farmer used to order the worker to get off the wagon and to walk the rest of the distance – giving him a meaningless letter supposedly to be taken to the great doctor in the town and the farmer would stop his wagon and let the black person climb off and then he would wait for him or her to walk some distance away towards the imaginary source of help and when the person was still within rifle range the farmer used to draw his gun and shoot the worker dead, drag him or her into a clump of bushes and return home. On so many occasions was this thing done almost all over South Africa, especially in Natal and in the Eastern Cape and the Northern Transvaal that our people began to develop a cold distrust of going to seek the help of doctors when they found themselves the victim or either Tuberculosis or venereal disease. It became a tradition for our people to believe and, rightly so, that if he or she sought the help of a doctor, he or she would not return alive but would be finished off somewhere along the road. Today, there are still thousands of Zulu people, Xhosa people and people of other tribes who firmly believe that if they go to a clinic or seek the help of a doctor when they have got either Tuberculosis or venereal disease that they will be finished off. I have met hundred of such people and this belief which is still as strong now as it was over sixty years ago or more is one of the things that are making our battle against Aids a hundred times more difficult than it otherwise would have been. In the olden days, there was something, which our people used to call ingane kaNodndwa, which means the child of a prostitute. This child of a prostitute was often the offspring of a woman who had suffered for years from Gonorrhoea and who then died after giving birth to this child. Usually such children were born blind, which was a strange characteristic I observed of children whose mothers suffered from this scourge. The child was born weak in body and in mind and was sometimes covered with sores and when having reached the ago of walking, unable to walk properly. In those days it was quite common for a woman, while walking along the street to be approached by a strange woman, a prostitute, and given a child wrapped in blankets, “here” would say the prostitute, “I give you this child, please bring it up in memory of me”. In those days our people still believed very firmly in their sacred traditions and their belief in the traditional black religion had not yet been destroyed by the foreign creed known as Christianity. In those days our people regarded children as very sacred beings indeed – so much so that in no African tribe or community did you find an orphan. All orphaned children were immediately adopted, handed over to relatives and brought up with dignity and love by people who still believed that the greatest duty of all human beings was to cherish, protect and nurture children. In those days things such as sexual abuse of children were totally unknown. In those days were believed that there was no greater luck that could befall a person but for that person to be given a living breathing child by a total stranger. I know many sangomas who, in their younger days, had been given children by prostitutes in Johannesburg and who brought up these children as their very own. One of the greatest sangomas, who once lived in Johannesburg, was a Sangoma known as Dorcas Danisa. Dorcas Danisa was a true psychic like Mr. Uri Geller she could bend spoons and other metal objects and one day when she was still a young woman way back in the 1940’s Dorcas had been approached by a destitute woman who had made a living out of selling her body and who was now riddled with syphilis and no longer able to earn a living. This woman approached Dorcas Danisa which a boy child who was deformed. The boy was crippled, paralyzed from the waist down and Dorcas brought up this boy as her own child – saw to it that he had proper schooling and when Dorcas died, this boy now grown into full manhood inherited Dorcas’s estate. Very, very few people knew that he was not her natural son, but a son by adoption – given to Dorcas by a strange a woman well over thirty years before. When a child was born deformed, when a child was born blind, the offspring of a prostitute our people used to cherish that child, bring it up as their own, and see to it that it grew into a mature, happy and respected human being. But today, with our traditions destroyed and our religion shattered, black people have become utterly cruel and selfish and vicious towards those they should be assisting. Today our people run away from those of their countrymen and women who have been traumatized by Aids and Tuberculosis. Children orphaned by Aids are treated worse than beasts. In Westernized and Christianized communities of today children suffering from Aids, weakened by HIV are beaten, ostracized, ill treated and forced to scavenge for scraps of food in dirty dustbins. I have seen it many times and I have wondered why our people have changed so much within one man’s lifetime. We have become a nation of extremely cruel people towards our own kith and kin and the reason for this is that we have thrown away our culture and our religion like so much rubbish and accepted falsehoods shouted at us from the pulpits of deceivers and the altars of liars. Today, if you want to adopt a suffering child, you have got to go through a whole hell of bureaucracy – you got to answer a thousand questions – you have got to travel many miles from this office to than one. Things are not being made at all easy for us African people to do what we feel is our godly duty towards those of us who are suffering. Sometimes in the darkness of the night when I lie unsleeping, lost in thought, I despair for the future of the black people. I despair for he future of my country. But at the same time, man is a winged creature, a creature given spiritual wings by the gods and these wings have one name and that name is Hope. No matter how dark the night or how angry the storm a human being must keep his wings of Hope unfurled and strong otherwise he shall fall out of the skies as id Icarus and perish upon the rocks far below. It is true that there is darkness over South Africa, it is true that there is despair in the land at this moment but what we are facing is a disease like any other – a disease made worse by the high rate of unemployment in our country. A disease made worse by the fact that our people are starving. You can never fight a deadly disease like Aids if you are torn apart by hunger – if you are torn apart by unemployment, but there is hope, a very faint hope for the people of South Africa. We must believe in that Hope otherwise we are a nation of dead things. There is a Hope that Aids can be defeated – there is a hope that the economic situation of our country can get better. One of the most amazing things that I have found in my long and bitter life is this – that it appears as if God prepared this world for the coming of animals and human beings and for the meeting of any emergency that may arise – that there isn’t a disease on this planet that has a cure and man has but to look around carefully and find it. There is a plant growing in the veld in South Africa, especially in the Cape. This is a plant with rather a strong smell – a beautiful plant that looks like a delicate fern – a plant with bright red, strange looking flowers, flowers that taste almost like honey when you eat them. This plants name is Sutherlandia Fructesence – a plant that was known for thousands of years for its healing powers by Bushmen, Koi San and Koi Koi, Hottentots as well as Bantu people. This medicine was one of seven medicines that our traditional healers called xxxxxxx, the final medicines, medicines which must only be used when the entire nation is in danger as it is now. This medicine, Sutherlandia, is safe to take and has been used by our people for thousands of years.