By Roman Baatenburg de Jong, Hivos Global Office
Munya (23) works as a street vendor, selling perfumes and deodorant in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. After his first-ever relationship broke up, he found out he was HIV-positive. It was thanks to Hivos that Munya was able to access testing and treatment. On World Aids Day, he overcomes his somewhat shy nature to tell us his personal story.
“I was born in a family of faith. That was mainly due to my mother, who is a dedicated follower of Forward in Faith, an evangelical church. My father didn’t go to church. My dad and I were very close. I wasn’t afraid to confide in him and tell him that I’m gay. Daddy accepted me. ‘Let’s keep this between ourselves’, he said.”
Munya gazes straight forward, his eyes now misty: “Last year my dad died in a car accident. He went to Johannesburg to do some shopping and he never came back.”
“My mother has always had a clue that I was different than the other lads. Still, she sometimes asks me why I don’t have a girlfriend. My time will come, I answer her vaguely. I got my first boyfriend when I was nineteen years old. After two years he moved to South Africa for his education, and that was the end of our relationship. Within the LGBT community, HIV/AIDS is still a big problem; a lot of my friends are on ARD [anti-retroviral drugs]. I also wanted to get myself tested but that was very difficult for someone like me. You try to pretend that you have a girlfriend, for all these questions you get. ‘Ah, I see, you broke up with your girlfriend ‘eh? Can’t you just bring her next time?’ It was only through GALZ* (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) that I got access to proper medical care. They have this network of doctors who they train and who really understand you.”
“I also told my brother who’s a few years younger about my homosexuality. He also advised to keep quiet. If I would be open to my mum and the family, and tell them I’m gay, they’d say I’m demonic or something. They would probably want to heal me. ‘Let us pray for this young man’, they say in church. ‘Stop taking those drugs’, the pastor says, ‘let us heal him!’ Very young friends of mine died this way as a consequence of HIV/AIDS.”
“It may sound strange, but I still go to church. I sing and play piano during services. A while ago, I disclosed my HIV status to my youth leader. Thereupon I was suspended. Later on they re-approached me, attempting to ‘heal’ me. I told them that I didn’t want to die yet.”
“The stigma surrounding homosexuality and HIV/AIDS is perpetuated by hate speech of both politicians and the church alike. It makes you feel inferior, really. The workshops at GALZ, and meeting likeminded people have given a boost to my self-respect. I wasn’t able to stand for myself, but I’ve gained confidence. I finally accept myself for who I am.”
*Hivos has set up a regional programme in eight countries in Southern Africa to improve access to testing, treatment and care for substantial numbers of so-called key populations, such as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) people. GALZ is a beneficiary organisation of this programme, with which Hivos has been working for over twenty years.