It is impossible not to notice how thin Feroza Mohamed is. The several layers of clothing she wears fails to protect her frail and disease-ridden 27-year-old body from the Highveld winter.
Mother of six-year-old Ismail, Mohamed arrived at Nkosi’s Haven, in December – HIV positive, destitute, shunned by her Muslim family and three months’ pregnant. Nkosi’s Haven is a Johannesburg shelter for HIV positive mothers and their children.
“I lived in a squatter camp in Germiston when I read about Nkosi’s Haven in the newspaper. I was very ill and wanted a place to leave my child when I died,” Mohamed says, showing signs of fatigue even though the interview has been going for less than five minutes.
Last month, Mohamed was rushed to Coronation Hospital on the backseat of Nkosi’s Haven director Gail Johnson’s rickety Fiat Uno.
“I was bleeding and it was chaos when we arrived at the hospital. Gail was shouting, trying to get the nurses to come and help me. They were concerned about me, not aware that I had already given birth. I told them that something had come out and slid underneath the seat.”
Nursing staff retrieved the premature baby from underneath the seat. He was barely breathing and gave up the fight a few hours later.
“I think it was probably better that way. I wouldn’t have been able to pick him up or feed him,” she says.
Mohamed’s face lights up when asked about Ismail. “It is important for me to know that he will be with me in my last hours. I’m fading away bit by bit. I prepare him every day. When I told him he would have to stay at Nkosi’s Haven with the women when I die, he said I needn’t worry. Then he looked at me and said: ‘Mommy, I’ll pray for you. You won’t die’.
So, why has she risked being shunned by her community rather than keeping quiet about her HIV status?
“I felt I had disgraced my church. It used to kill me and I thought I had disgraced Allah. But my need to feel free was much greater. Free from this burden I was carrying inside of me.
“Obviously I contracted the virus through sex, but I don’t know from whom. I have no contact with my family. Both my parents have died.
“My time is short and I am sleeping a lot. We have lost three women in a short time and I know I am going down the same road.
“These women are my family and the only place I will die is here. I wish I could fight, but I’m tired of fighting.”