'I WILL FIGHT VIRUS'
She was only six years old when a neighbour sent her to his house to turn on the radio. Like any respectful child, she did as she was told. But as she was about to leave the house, he grabbed her.
At gunpoint, he raped her so brutally that she was bleeding and had difficulty walking after her ordeal.
Now 16, Mandisa Madikane looks, talks, dresses and giggles like a typical teenager, except that a few months ago she tested HIV positive.
The Grade 10 pupil at Missouri Secondary School in Eldorado Park has never had a boyfriend or, except for the brutal violation of her body, had sex in her life.
"I have a clear recollection of what happened on the day that I was raped; it is an experience that has haunted me for the past 10 years.
"When I found out that he had infected me with HIV, it felt like he was raping me all over again," she said.
Madikane said after finding out about her status, she locked herself in her bedroom and did not eat or speak to anyone.
The first people she told were her grandmother and 13-year-old cousin and best friend, Gugu.
Her mother does not stay with her, and about her father she said: "I don't know what's going on with that one.
"It was the support of my family that got me out of my room. I realised that they love me and that I could still have a future. I later told my principal and class teacher and they were very supportive," she said.
The public and Madikane's neighbours in Kliptown, Soweto, got to know her story when she related it to HIV-Aids activist and Sowetan columnist Lucky Mazibuko on his show on Jozi FM.
"I decided to come out and be open about my status. I am not ashamed of it. I did not bring this upon myself.
"An adult, who was supposed to love and protect me as a child, decided my fate," she said.
Although she is intelligent beyond her years, Madikane, like every child her age, has innocent and naive dreams.
Her face lights up when she talks about her future, how she's going to be successful and have everything that her grandmother was not able to provide her and her siblings.
"When I finish studying, I want to work in a bank.
"My grandmother cannot afford to put me through tertiary. Gugu and I have this box that we put our money in to save for our tertiary studies," she said.
Madikane seems more comfortable talking about her HIV status than about the rape. Her mood suddenly changes when asked about the whereabouts of the man who raped her.
After raping her he told her to go home and not say a word to her family or he would kill her.
"I tried to do as he said but I had difficulty walking and my skirt was bloodstained. My aunt noticed that there was something wrong and asked me what happened.
"I told her everything. She called the neighbours and they went to his house. He tried to run away but they caught him, beat him up and took him to the police station. He was later convicted and sentenced to 15 years.
"He will be back soon, four years to be precise. I don't know how I'm going to look at him. I can't even look at his wife. She moved out after the incident, but she still visits her friends in the area and I see her sometimes.
"I'm not blaming her for what happened to me, it's just that she came to our house and swore at my grandmother, saying we put her man in jail.
"As I grow up, I realise how badly the experience has affected me. I have difficulty opening up to males unless it is somebody I trust. I also had a problem wearing skirts until recently," she said.
Her face lights up when she talks about writing poetry and her achievements at school.
"I have this book where I write my thoughts every day. Sometimes I wake up feeling down and on other days I'm filled with hope and happiness.
"Sometimes I get a sore throat. I never really get sick," she said.
Madikane recites her poetry at school and at community events. Her poetry is mostly about issues affecting teenagers; pregnancy, abuse and HIV.
She says she does not have friends so she does not really hang out in malls or go shopping every other Saturday.
"I don't worry about material things, I can't afford them anyway. I prefer more intelligent stuff like school and dance. I've been a member of a dance group since I was young. We performed during Nelson Mandela's birthday celebration in Kliptown last week - that was remarkable."
For now, Madikane's main focus is staying positive about her life and future and to be as open as she can about her HIV status.
"I will not let this virus define my life," she said.