Thembi’s Aids Diary is a gruelling real-life radio diary about a young woman coming to terms with her life-altering disease.
Joe Richman, the American producer of the diary, and Thembi Ngubane, its narrator and subject, came to Rhodes to do a presentation on the diary. They spoke on Wednesday March 13 in Arts Major. In the presentation Richman interviewed Ngubane and played audio clips from the diary to explain the story.
The event was organised by the Rhodes University Journalism and Media Studies Department, RMR, Sharc, the Dean of Students and the SRC. The documentary was broadcast all over the United States and is now being aired in South Africa for the first time.
Thembi Ngubane’s story originates in the township of Khayelitsha when she was approached by Joe Richman, an American journalist interviewing teenagers affected by HIV/Aids. He encouraged Thembi to keep an audio diary recording her personal experience with HIV/Aids for a year. Joe was particularly impressed with the manner in which Thembi dealt with the virus, as each morning she had a ritual where she looked into the mirror and talked to her virus. She explained that it came to a point where she had to face the virus directly in order to overcome it.
Thembi came across as a strong, focused, confident young women, unflinching when talking about some of the most painful moments in her life. Like any normal teenager she talks about how HIV was the last thing on her mind. She explained that her initial thoughts about Aids were most importantly not to talk about it.
Thembi states that the process of going for a test to find out one’s status is an enduring and unfathomable process.
“I was thinking about all the stigma that goes with a community finding out that someone has AIDS, so I was very scared”. The diary captures what it is like for someone dealing with facing rejection within a community where HIV/Aids is taboo.
She maintains a sense of humour while simultaneously explaining some of the more difficult memories of the pain and suffering of the virus. People would stare at her when she lost weight.
The talk stresses the importance of Anti-retrovirals (ARVs).She explains that in townships there is a myth surrounding the ill-effects of them. However, Thembi acknowledged that the ARV’s were necessary and it gave hope that there was something that could help the pain of HIV.
“ARV’s won’t work alone, you need to accept yourself, accept your status, love yourself, believe that you want to live for a long time and have support from your family”, says Thembi.
She alarmingly outlines that there are many people suffering from HIV/Aids in her township but are afraid of disclosing their status due to fear of discrimination.
“In the past our parents were suffering from apartheid. They
wanted to be free. Now it is the same with HIV and Aids. This is the new struggle.”
Initially, the radio diary scheduled for screening only in the US and not in South Africa – so as to protect Thembi’s identity and anonymity – but as time passed Thembi felt that is was important that she expose people in her own country to her experiences. She claims that people in South Africa are incredibly judgemental, but the documentary helped overcome her fears and enabled her to deal with the virus, hence she wanted to air the documentary locally as a catalyst to end the negative stigma surrounding Aids. Thembi believed that it was more relevant here since people are either infected or affected.
The South African broadcast meant that the documentary could be translated into Zulu and Xhosa and a tour showing the documentary has visited Aids clinics, schools, townships and universities all over the country.
At the Rhodes screening, the venue was completely full and was attended by the Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr.Saleem Badat, and Vice-Principal, Dr Colin Johnson, among others.
Jeanne Du Toit from the Journalism department commented that the “radio diaries technique is cutting edge public radio and people do respond better to it”.
The aim of the tour is to create awareness, encouraging people to get tested and emphasise the reality of the disease. It has inspired young people who are infected to try to help themselves instead of becoming one of those rising statistics of people who hide away and submissively die from AIDS.
The tour will continue travelling around the country. More information on the tour and story can be found at http://www.radiodiaries.org/aidsdiary.