by Ester Mbathera

EVERY TIME someone demands the list of names of those who tested positive for Covid-19, I cringe.

Ester Mbathera

Have we now turned into hell’s judges and jury whose job is to separate the saints from the sinners? Unlike other viruses, this one gets to you when you least expect it. So what is the rationale for wanting to know who has the virus?

No one deserves to contract Covid-19.

More so, no one deserves to be treated with disgust when in most cases one is innocently exposed to the virus.

Stigma is not something everyone is strong enough to overcome. I have been there when someone close to me contracted HIV, leading to full-blown AIDS.

She stayed with us in my mother’s two-bedroom house in Soweto. It was a full house shared by 10 people.

It was at a time when there were no ARVs; when the volunteers at the AIDS Care Trust up the street in ‘Rykmansdorp’ would walk the streets, distributing condoms and information leaflets.

They spoke about certain ModuCare immune boosters, and of course we could not afford them.

My mother had retired from her job at Hartlief and started selling braai meat in front of the house. What an entrepreneur and survivor she was!

When the news broke out that someone with AIDS lived at D69/17, which was our house at the time, all hell broke loose.

At that time, I was a volunteer at the National Youth Council, receiving a N$90 monthly allowance – thanks to Pohamba Shifeta, the secretary general of the organisation at the time and his team, who valued our input.

My hair braiding business had collapsed and friends and neighbours stopped entering our warm house. Yes it was a warm house headed by mee M’kwaluvala with tough love.

The stigma attached to HIV-AIDS brought the temperature in our home down to sub-zero degrees; a terible cold front that took years to pass.

Our friends and neighbours no longer entered the house.

They would greet us in passing screaming “mwa uhala po” (good day) from outside our house entrance.

Mind you, we did not have a fence – so ours was an open gate policy.

We were on our own. There was little information on family counselling. My sister only told those closer to her about her condition, not us all. During this time, the family was disintegrating.

Each one was in their own world.

I would leave home early in the morning and only return to sleep. I was a wimp; alcohol and experimenting with drugs were not my thing, thanks to the Teenagers Against Drugs and Alcohol (Tada) programmes.

I instead deflected all my energy and fears into youth volunteer work, soccer and athletics.

When Emma Tuahepa, Nelao Martin, Bernhard Kamatoto and Immanuel Sheefeni declared their status in public; when as a family we participated in an HIV documentary about my sister, it was not for popularity.

Our aim was to end stigma on HIV.

Thus it is baffling why anyone would want to know the names of those who tested positive for Covid-19. It has to stop. It has to stop now. They have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

People should realise that this virus does not ask how old or young you are, from which social group, tax bracket or ethnicity.

It creeps into your life like a thief in the night and attaches itself to you.
It is easy to say share the list, but know that tomorrow it might be you. Would you be so enthusiastic then to demand that the list be shared?

If you happen to be exposed to Covid-19, know that you are worth living, your life matters and this too shall pass.
Lets march on, together.

*Ester Mbathera is a freelance journalist based in the Erongo region. She has extensive years in radio, TV and print media journalism.

Share this