Thembi, a Year Later: Life with HIV Last April, All Things Considered broadcast the radio diary of Thembi Ngubane, one of 5 million South Africans living with HIV. Now, her diary has been aired in South Africa, where she is touring and speaking publicly about her experiences.
NPR logo

Thembi, a Year Later: Life with HIV

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Thembi, a Year Later: Life with HIV

Thembi, a Year Later: Life with HIV

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. At least 5 million South Africans are living with AIDS. Among them is a 22-year-old woman named Thembi Ngubane. We first met Thembi a year ago when we broadcast a remarkable radio diary she kept about her life with help from producer Joe Richmond(ph). In that diary, Thembi talked about the stigma of living with AIDS in her township. She talked about telling her father about her condition, her relationship with her boyfriend, her decision to have a child and her hopes and fears for the future.

Ms. THEMBI NGUBANE: AIDS is not going to bring me down. I am the one who's got hands and feet and mind, and it's only something that is inside my blood. So it will try to rule me inside, but outside I'll be the boss. I want to study (unintelligible). I want to have a great job. There are a lot of things that I want to get done. I'm just going on with my life. I'm just going on with my life.

BLOCK: Last month, Thembi's radio documentary was broadcast for the first time in South Africa. It was heard in English, Zulu, as well as in her native Xhosa language. Thembi joins us now from her home in the township of Kialicha(ph) near Cape Town. Hi, Thembi.


BLOCK: How are you doing?

Ms. NGUBANE: I'm fine, thank you. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm okay, thanks. You know, when we talked this time last year you were very worried about how your story of living with AIDS was going to be received in South Africa. How has the reaction been so far?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, it's true I was, but the reaction was nothing like I expected. I thought they were going to take it seriously since this is coming from South Africa and people are fed up of hearing about HIV and AIDS. It's something that they hear every day. But I think it was different because now they were not hearing a story and also reading a book. It was a human being standing in front of them, so they were really interested in the story and I had a good response.

BLOCK: You have been touring South Africa over the last couple of weeks to schools and colleges and different groups, talking about AIDS. And last week you addressed the African National Congress Caucus in parliament. Let's listen to a little bit of what you told them.

Ms. NGUBANE: Every time I went to the clinic, someone is dying. Every time I went to the clinic, someone has (unintelligible) because all these people have lack of knowledge or those people don't believe that AIDS exists. That's why people must stop discriminating, must stop stigmatizing because it's not going to go away. I mean, there will be a world without AIDS, but it's up to us to do something about it.

(Soundbite of applause)

BLOCK: Thembi, that's a lot of applause it sounds like to me.

Ms. NGUBANE: Yes, yes.

BLOCK: What did you hear from those members of parliament after you spoke?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, at first I was nervous, actually. I didn't like the idea of going to parliament because I don't like parliament, I don't like - I mean, I don't like politics. So I didn't think I was going to be comfortable talking to them. But as soon as I sat down and started to speak to them, I just found that they're only humans also.

They're just like me. They're just like you. They needed to hear what I have to say. So I felt comfortable and I just said what I wanted to say, and the response was very welcoming. They were really into the story. They made a lot of comments and they understood that they also need to do something about it.

BLOCK: And we should explain that you don't have particular experience in public speaking. You were living your life in the township when Joe Richmond, the producer, happened to find you, but this is not something you're used to doing by any means, speaking to groups or much less to parliament.

Ms. NGUBANE: Yes, it's - no, it is something that just happened. I was not public speaker before, but something that just happened. After I've carried a tape recorder I just started and wanted to speak.

BLOCK: What - when you were on this tour talking to people throughout South Africa, what was the most remarkable moment, do you think?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, when I went to schools, actually. There was a good and warm response because I come here from South Africa so I know how teenagers are. I know how they think. I know how they operate. So I didn't think they were going to care about what I have to say, but it was the opposite. They cared most, and I've seen that a lot of people really needed to hear the story. A lot of people who were sitting there didn't know what to do, but since I came along, I then lended help to them.

BLOCK: I understand there was one school outside of Cape Town where the teachers asked you to come speak because there was a student there, a 16-year-old girl who is HIV positive and she was being harassed by other students. She'd even tried to commit suicide.

Ms. NGUBANE: Yes, well at first I didn't want also to go there, but as soon as they explained to me that there was this girl that was being harassed, that's when I just wanted to go and I just could not wait to see those children. I just could not wait to speak to them. It was really a warm feeling and (unintelligible) because I was speaking Xhosa, and they also speak Xhosa, so I was comfortable. I was just like them.

I was saying what they wanted to hear, and especially saying it in Xhosa. So everything was relevant for them. Everything was easy for them. I just tell them about how HIV and AIDS affect us all. It doesn't have to be that person that has AIDS. It can be anyone. So I told them at that point that everyone must be aware. Everyone can get it. It's not something that goes to other people. It doesn't choose.

So I make them aware that even if that girl has HIV, is HIV positive, they don't have to discriminate her because of her status because they can also get it without knowing.

BLOCK: Thembi, how is your health and the health of your boyfriend?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, my health is good and I just had the flu. That's all. But I'm in a good state, and my boyfriend also in a good state.

BLOCK: That's great, and you have a little girl, Onwabo. Is she two now?

Ms. NGUBANE: Yes, she is.

BLOCK: And how's she doing?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, she's doing fine. She just finished her TB treatment. She was on TB treatment.

BLOCK: TB treatment, did you say?


BLOCK: And Onwabo is HIV negative?


BLOCK: And two years old. Is she into all sort of things as a two-year-old?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NGUBANE: Yes, mostly all - most of them, yeah.

BLOCK: What does she do?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, she's started to talk more.

BLOCK: Does she sing like her mom?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, she doesn't sing, but she likes to take the spotlight sometimes. She likes to be on stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NGUBANE: So when I'm doing events, sometimes she takes the spotlights for herself.

BLOCK: Is that right?

Ms. NGUBANE: Yeah.

BLOCK: Thembi, when we started talking just now, we played a little bit of your diary from a year ago, where you were talking about what you hoped for the future. What are your plans now? What do you think is next for you?

Ms. NGUBANE: Well, I think I have a lot, really, in my mind. But I think I'm going to continue with what I'm doing with the AIDS awareness at schools. I think I would like to work in schools more because I feel like it's time people see a human face. It's time people hear from someone that has experience, has walked the road. I think it will make a better impact that way.

BLOCK: Well, Thembi, it's great to talk with you, and all the best to you and to your family.

Ms. NGUBANE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Thembi Ngubane speaking with us from her home in the township of Kialicha near Cape Town. If you want to read Thembi's blog about her recent tour of South Africa, you can find it at, and that's where you can also hear her original story, produced by Joe Richmond at Radio Diaries.

Copyright © 2007 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.