Virus spreading like wildfire in rural border town

Kamva Mokoena

The small town of Kokstad in southern KwaZulu-Natal is ravaged by Aids, with at least 70percent of people tested for the disease found to be HIV positive.

Kokstad is KwaZulu-Natal's second largest recipient of the national government's antiretroviral programme.

The manager of Usher Memorial Hospital, Nolindelo Mathe, said the virus was spreading at an alarming rate in the region.

"It is not clear why the disease is spreading so fast. But the fact that we are a border region and a thoroughfare between KwaZulu- Natal and Eastern Cape could play a role," she said.

Even the Kokstad municipality has recently introduced HIV-Aids programmes to combat the disease.

These programmes include funding local non-governmental organisations to help in the fight against the disease. A budget of R150000 has been set aside for this purpose.

Kokstad mayor Mbulelo Sithole said he was shocked at the high number of people living with HIV-Aids in the region.

During a municipal imbizo last week, Sithole called on the youth to abstain from sex to avoid more infections.

"We plead with the youth to abstain," said Sithole.

Local organiser of the National Association of People Living with Aids (Napwa), Zoliswa Mnyayiza, who is also HIV positive, commended Sithole for highlighting the HIV-Aids crisis.

She said most people in Kokstad deny that Aids exists.

"Some don't even want to go for testing, even if they know their partners have the disease," said Mnyayiza.

Her organisation has joined hands with other NGOs to form a support group that meets every Thursday at the town's Khanyiselani Resource Centre, to counsel people living with HIV.

Mnyayiza discovered in 2002 that she was HIV positive. "I was happily married then, and my husband admitted he was positive," she said.

She went for a test, which returned positive. Her husband died two years later. The mother of three young children said some of her friends isolated her when she told them about her condition.

"But some were very sympathetic and supported me. I was lucky because my family also supported me," said Mnyayiza.

Brenda Mathe, 50, is another prominent Kokstad resident who has publicly declared her HIV status.

Her brother is former Kokstad mayor Mandla Mathe.

"People should know their status regardless of age. I decided to go for a HIV test after listening to radio programmes and reading in newspapers about it," said Mathe.

She added that she discovered her status in 2000 after she fell ill and lost weight.

Mathe also advised the youth in Kokstad to go for testing.