We end this hour on a sad note. We learned today of the death of a remarkable young woman. Her name was Thembi Ngubane, and you first heard her on this program three years ago. Ngubane lived in one of South Africa's largest shantytowns, and one of many things that made her special was that she was open about the fact she had AIDS.

Independent producer Joe Richman gave her a tape recorder, and Ngubane chronicled a year in her life for us in a series of intimate diary entries. Now Joe Richman remembers Thembi Ngubane's all-too-brief life.

JOE RICHMAN: When I first met Thembi, she was 19. She was living in a shack and she was HIV positive. I suppose the odds were stacked against her, but it didn't seem that way at the time.

Thembi thought the virus should be scared of her rather than the other way around, and one of the first things she recorded for her diary was what she called her HIV prayer.

Ms. THEMBI NGUBANE: Hello, HIV. You trespass right in my body. You have to obey the rules. You have to respect me, and if you don't hurt me, I won't hurt you. You mind your business, I'll mind mine. Then I will give you a ticket when your time comes.

RICHMAN: Over the course of a year, Thembi recorded about 50 hours of tape: interviews with her family and friends, late-night dancing with her boyfriend, Malikaya(ph), the sounds of her baby Nwabo(ph), and the moment when she told her father that she had AIDS. But the most amazing part of Thembi's story was what happened after her diary aired.

Thembi traveled to the United States in 2006 to present her story in high schools and colleges. She met Bill Clinton and then-Senator Barack Obama. Yet what Thembi was most proud of was slowly finding the courage to speak out in her own country. At the time, very few people in South Africa were talking openly about their HIV status. In March, 2007, she addressed the South African parliament.

Ms. NGUBANE: Every time I went to the clinic, someone is dying because all these people have (unintelligible). All these people don't believe that AIDS exists. That's why people must stop discriminating for what is not going to go away. It's up to us to do something about it.

(Soundbite of applause)

RICHMAN: Thembi was under five feet tall, but she was a big presence: brave, open and funny, with a really charming smile. It was sometimes difficult to remember that she was sick.

This week, Thembi was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB. She died last night. She was 24.

(Soundbite of recording)

Ms. NGUBANE: I'm just mentioning what this world will be like without me. I'm not scared of dying, but I'm scared of not being here. I'm just going on with my life.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

SIEGEL: The voice of Thembi Ngubane from her radio diary recorded in 2006. You can hear it at our Web site, Our remembrance came from Joe Richman of Radio Diaries.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.