We all have Aids – an account from the democracy movement in Swaziland

TB flourishes in a country where people’s immune defence system is low. And it is particularly well-suited to a country such as Swaziland, where at least half of the people one meets have Aids. TB and Aids are king.

I am standing at Nazarene Government Hospital in Manzini together with the country coordinator of PUDEMO – an illegal party. We are visiting the wife of one of his brothers. His brother is not here. Maybe his feels guilty, or maybe he thinks we believe him to be guilty. As for his wife, lying in the bed in front of us – what does she make of it all?

I have met most of Jabulani’s brothers. They are all rather unremarkable – all stocky, thickset men from the rural areas of Swaziland and all employed by the church or the authorities. Their wives are all much prettier for some reason, and so is Jabulani’s wife.

She has a dark-brown face. She also has a drip in her arm in a last attempt to boost her immune defence system. Her mother-in-law and her aunt are also sat next to the bed. I am watching them from across the room, wearing a mask, while Jabulani, being the eldest brother, is trying to sort out the situation. Right now the main issue is that of food – it hasn’t exactly been forthcoming.

First you feel nauseous. Unable to eat. Then tired. Then the infections present themselves – TB and pneumonia – after which you are taken to Nazarene. And if the doctor’s are unsuccessful in their treatment, you will eventually be taken home to die. Alone.

In Swaziland HIV doesn’t take years to cause Aids as is normally the case. Here you can easily feel the symptoms of HIV and Aids within a year.

As Jabulani is the eldest brother, he must deal with the misfortunes and accidents of his younger brothers. And he has been busy lately. Just two weeks ago, another of his brother’s wives and their two children were found dead in their flat in Matsapha – probably because of a leaking gas container. She was his second wife and Jabulani’s brother had rather neglected her. Her family had to be informed, and as he didn’t want to do it himself, Jabulani was given the unenviable task of being the bearer of ill news. The bodies had laid there for two whole days without anyone noticing.

A few months ago another of his brothers had suddenly left for South Africa, leaving his children and wife behind to fend for themselves. A few years earlier his sister had died. The children have nowhere else to go but Jabulani’s house in Ngwane Park, in the hills overlooking Manzini. Hopefully, he will be able to give them a high school education, perhaps one or two of them even a university education.

We leave the hospital. Through the low yellowish hallways that are framed by dark brown panels. We pass the clinic and the empty lobby with its guards loitering about. Eventually we are met by a fresh evening breeze.

Nazarene Hospital was built over a century ago by a British doctor. Today it is mostly used as a final sanatorium for the dying, the ones that never really stood a chance.

From the Democracy Movement in Swaziland.

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