The stigma of promiscuity attached to HIV/AIDS is one of the main reasons why Mavis Kgapola* is hesitant to seek out treatment. Picture: Brenda Masilela/ANA

Pretoria - Mavis Kgapola* is sitting under a shade outside her home, wrapped in a small blanket. She looks frail, her cheekbones and collarbones are protruding. Her skin is ash-like and covered with chicken pox-like sores.

It's extremely hot, too hot for Kgapola to be covered in a blanket but she insists she prefers to cover herself when sitting outside.

Kgopola is 41 but could easily be mistaken for a woman half her age. She is a single mother of four and has just been recently discharged from hospital. She is also HIV-positive.

The stigma of promiscuity attached to the disease is one of the main reasons why people are hesitant to seek out treatment and Kgapola said this contributed to her long-standing state of denial and lack of treatment.

"Had I just accepted and never stopped taking my medication, I wouldn't be this sick," she said speaking slowly.

Kgapola found out about her status more than ten years ago after her partner had deliberately infected her.

"My partner knew about his status and kept it as a secret," she tells the African News Agency (ANA). "I'm sure he was positive when I met him."

She pauses for a while and for a moment it seems like her thoughts have drifted away with her as she gazes into nothingness. Then, without notice, she abruptly carries on with her story.

"We didn't stay together, I used to visit him mostly on weekends because during the week I had to be home and prepare my kids for school.

"As usual, when I visit his place, I would do a spring-cleaning because he hardly cleaned when he was on his own. One morning when he had gone to work, I found a plastic (container) with pills hidden in between his folded t-shirts."

She said her curiosity got the better of her and she inspected the contents inside the plastic tub. 

"I immediately recognised the pills because my sister also takes them. I was in disbelief and was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. After a while, I managed to gather myself and waited for him to come back from work... I didn't want to confront him over the phone."

Her eyes gather tears and her voice trembles as she goes into detail about the events of the fateful day. 

"When he came back from work the pills were on the table. I asked him what they were for ... he didn't reply and then I told him that I know what they were for. He just smiled and said 'sorry, I didn't know how to tell you'.

"He said now that I know, he is relieved that he doesn't have to lie to me anymore and that was it, just like that, the conversation was done. For some reason, I also decided to shelve the matter."

After six months, she broke up with her boyfriend. She managed to pluck up the courage to get tested and the results came back positive. 

"I started taking medication but deep down I didn't want to accept that I was positive. I started going to church and I attended all services, including the ones held during the week. I just told myself if I commit myself to church, everything will be fine."

Subsequently, Kgapola stopped taking her pills.

She explained that she slowly started losing weight but because she was in denial, she found excuses for her weight loss. 

What accelerated matters was when a prophet at her church told her she has an ancestral calling and had to complete a series of rituals to reconcile with the ancestors.

"My health continued to deteriorate and when my mom asked me questions, I told her I have an ancestral calling and I have to be a sangoma.

"Part of me wanted to believe that the prophet was right and I wasn't HIV positive," she continued. "He might have been right, it's just that I didn't want to face my reality."

Kgapola was taken to an initiation school to train to become a sangoma. "The owner of the school noticed that I was getting extremely sick and losing weight and he suggested that I go back home and come back when I have healed."

She said she was home for a week until she was rushed to hospital where it was also revealed that she was six months pregnant with her fourth child.

Kgapola insists that she did not know that she was pregnant. 

She has since given birth to a baby girl who has tested negative.

When questioned about the father of her youngest child, Kgapola refused to reveal anything about him.

"What's important now is that I'm taking my medication and want to raise my children," she said.

She says when she fully recovers she wants to get a job and buy a stand where she can build a house for her children.

"I'm aware that I've made wrong decisions, but I want to change them and build a better future for my kids."

* NOT HER REAL NAME

African News Agency (ANA)