Zanele: Swaziland

By My name is Zanele and I am 25 years old. One year ago, on World AIDS Day 2009, I lived with my husband, Mfanzile, and my one-year-old daughter, Phiwa,

Jon Hrusa/EPA

My name is Zanele and I am 25 years old. One year ago, on World AIDS Day 2009, I lived with my husband, Mfanzile, and my one-year-old daughter, Phiwa, in Mkhulamini, Swaziland.

Life was hard. We lived in a one-room house with barely enough space for the three of us. We earned very little money; sometimes we did not have enough food to eat. Mfanzile and I were HIV-positive, and although we both took our medications, Mfanzile was often sick.

Despite all of these difficulties, we were happy. Mfanzile and I lived for Phiwa. Thanks to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services that I received during and after my pregnancy at the Mkhulamini clinic, Phiwa was HIV-negative and healthy.

But things soon grew worse for us. Early in the year, Mfanzile became so ill that he was unable to work. He lost his job as a night watchman. Mfanzile’s family, who owned the land we lived on, harassed us constantly about our HIV status. I told Mfanzile to stay away from them, but then they came to our house and abused us.

In June 2010, my husband died. After his death, Mfanzile’s family took everything from me. They took my chickens and my clothes. They began farming the land right up to my doorstep. It was clear that Phiwa and I were no longer welcome in our own home.

On the day of my husband’s funeral, I packed the possessions I had, took my daughter, and left. I was six months pregnant at that time. 

It is now one year later – World AIDS Day 2010. I live at my mother’s home in Lubombo Region, about 60 kilometers from Mkhulamini. My mother, Alice, is also living with HIV and she is proudly open about her status. She has taught me that being HIV-positive is nothing to be ashamed of. I also live with my sister, Welile, and my three young nieces. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by family who care about me and accept me.

On September 23, three months after Mfanzile’s death, I gave birth to a baby boy, Nkosingphile. His name means “Gift from God.” Despite all the hardships I experienced while I was pregnant, I continued to take my medication and go to the clinic for PMTCT services. Thanks to the HIV counseling and education that I’ve had, I knew what I had to do to protect the life of my baby.

Two weeks ago, Nkosingphile had his first HIV test. The result was negative. I will continue to breastfeed him until he is six months old, so he stays healthy and strong. Nkosingphile will have another HIV test in a few months and I am confident that he will remain negative.

Phiwa is two years old and healthy. She loves to dance and play with her cousins. I’ve had her tested for HIV many times – so many that the clinic refuses to test her again! The nurses say she is negative and I don’t need to have her tested anymore.

I see a long life ahead for myself and my children. I believe that Mfanzile is looking down on us from somewhere, and he is smiling.

The European Press Agency (EPA) has published a photo essay entitled “The Sorrow of AIDS” about the Dlamini family. View it here.

Zanele also was recently interviewed for an article about the stigma surrounding HIV-positive residents of Swaziland in