Tomorrow, the most well known Celebrities, such as Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Lady Gaga, David LaChapelle, Justinn Timberlake, Usher Raymond, Serena Williams, Elijah Wood, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Hudson, and a few others are giving up their digital life to raise awareness and funds on World Aids Day. The Premise is simple, on the 1 December, they die (digitally). They will cease all social network communication until such time as enough funds ($1 million) are raised to buy back their digital life, at which stage they will return and continue as normal.
My heart is heavy as I think about it. Not because of their digital death, but because of what it represents, and people I know in the real world who have died. What you are actually doing by donating, is buying the real life of a child, in a third world country. A child who would die in the real world without your help. You see, you are paying for ARV’s for children, pregnant women etc, you are buying them life. ARV’s mean that people do not need to die of HIV/Aids. This money will not only be used for ARV’s, but also funding for various NGO’s in many third world countries, who do many things to combat the spread of HIV. What a great way to raise awareness and do something tangible to help on World Aids Day: Buy Life.
As I think about how much I admire the Keep A Child Alive’s influence, and how brilliant this Buy Life Campaign is, I think about a woman who had the same goal, but gave her life trying to achieve it. As I look out of my window, at the sea, at the “steady waves of fearless hope and grace”, I am thinking of a woman I admire perhaps more than anyone I know. A fearless woman I never met. A woman who once lived not so far away from me. A woman who paved the way for many other South Africans. A woman who empowered other women. A woman who brought a wave of change, that we can all see evident in every community in KZN as World Aids Day approaches tomorrow. She was not a first lady. She was not a well known Actress or singer. Most of the World outside of South Africa, and probably including quite a few South Africans, have never heard of her. They do not know how much she sacrificed, or how strong she was. Her name was Gugu Dlamini. Remember it: She deserves to be remembered.
Close to this time in December of 1998, a woman who was not a celebrity, who if she lived today, wouldnt have had millions of twitter and facebook followers, did what these celebrities are emulating. She gave her life for a cause. Despite death threats, GUGU DLAMINI, of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest HIV infection rate in the World, continued to raise awareness and call for the stigma attached to HIV/Aids to be torn down. She was the one of the first woman in South Africa to be open and honest about her HIV status, publicly! She told everyone who would listen, to try and raise awareness. In those days, you just didn’t talk about HIV/Aids in South Africa, and it is because of this our infection rate is so high. She opened the doors for discussion and she paid with her life.
On the 12 December 1998, she was beaten to death in her community, for bringing “Shame” to the area, by openly admitting she was HIV positive. If I am honest, the police failed her. After she was beaten, they took too long to arrive and she didn’t receive treatment soon enough. She had reported the death threats and they did nothing. After her death, people were outraged, and began to realize just how deadly “stigma” can be. More deadly than the disease itself. She was only 36 years old. She did not need to die. It was a sacrifice she willingly made. She said she did not care about what people thought, she wanted to raise awareness. I am sitting here and my eyes are welling up, because I remember when I heard of her death. I was still in school, 12 years ago and I remember my Aunt telling me about it. Today in South Africa, many people are raising awareness, especially around World Aids Day, but very few remember the woman who started it all. An Aids activist who fought with her life to bring freedom, freedom to be open about HIV/Aids, and to talk about it. Freedom that will save many lives.
Local celebrities are being publicly tested, to encourage others to know their status. Knowing your status not only saves your life, but the lives of others. It brings down the infection rate. This was Gugu Dlamini’s message! People die needlessly because of the stigma attached to the disease. They do not want to be tested, so they do not know there status, and do not seek treatment. Not knowing your status can be deadly.
A woman I volunteered with, at an Aids Clinic, found out she was HIV positive when her child died of Aids. If she knew her status she could have taken ARV’s, and saved her baby, although in those days, there was no funding available. As far as I am aware, she had slept with two men in her whole life. Her first husband, who died in an accident, and her second life partner, with whom she had the child. She had nothing to be ashamed about, but she never in a million years thought she could have the disease, so she never got tested! Ten years after finding out, she was provided with ARV’s, but funding ran out and soon after she could no longer take them, she passed away, and every time I think about her, I am heartbroken.
You see, because of the work Keep A Child Alive does, women like her, and her child, no longer need to die. People die needlessly every day, innocent children die needlessly every day, of HIV/AIDS complications, because they simply cannot afford the treatment. This is what Keep a Child Alive fights for! The best gift you can buy this Christmas is Life! (Obviously I do not work for Keep a Child Alive, I just believe in what they are doing)