Why did he die? Living with AIDS # 231

Written by Health-e News

In her recently-published book, ‘€œKhabzela: The Life and Times of a South African’€, first-time author Liz McGregor asks the most pertinent question: Why did Fana Khaba, the popular deceased DJ on Gauteng-based youth station, YFM, die?

KHOPOTSO: The question is even more resonant given the fact that the late DJ, affectionately known as Khabzela, had the resources that many South Africans do not have. His breakfast DJ job with a successful radio station in the economic powerhouse of the country paid him well enough that he could afford private medical care and access to antiretrovirals, the life-prolonging medicine for people living with AIDS. Khabzela’€™s employer even purchased the first supply for him. He took it for several weeks and then stopped ‘€“ not knowing that that was to be the beginning of the end for him. And until the very end, Khabzela’€™s long-suffering fiancée Sibongile Radebe, who got HIV from him stood by her man. I met her at a noisy launch of the book, the day Khabzela would have turned 37 had he still lived.    

SIBONGILE RADEBE: I strongly believe that he should be here today. I strongly believe that he was not supposed to die. But’€¦ I found myself having no control over the situation. There were a lot of people that were advising. There were a lot of people who came up with their own medicines and remedies who thought that they knew and understood HIV better. And at the end of the day he was ill. He couldn’€™t make any sound decisions on his own. People had to make decisions for him. Unfortunately, some of the decisions were not the right decisions.          

KHOPOTSO: Author, Liz McGregor mentions some of these in her book.

LIZ McGREGOR: We need a far clearer policy and perspective about exactly what people need to do when they’€™re like him because all kinds of people took advantage of him’€¦ One of the key people who treated him was this woman Tine van der Maas, who was sent personally by the Minister of Health. This woman tried to treat him with lemon juice and olive oil. And he was desperately ill at the time’€¦ He had dementia. He had the most appalling bed sores. He had lung problems. He’€™d virtually lost the use of his limbs. He was terribly, terribly ill. In many ways, I found that really reprehensible.                  

KHOPOTSO: During this time Khabzela’€™s CD4 count, writes McGregor in the book, was only 2. Khabzela’€™s state was that of full-blown AIDS, which meant that the only scientifically proven effective treatment he needed to stand a chance at life was antiretrovirals. But Khabzela was to have that opportunity snatched out of his hands. Before he was bedridden, the late DJ had started antiretroviral therapy, but stopped after a few weeks and instead went on Tine van der Maas’€™s diet programme and other remedies that were meant to save him from the toxicities of ARVs.

The truth is, we will never know if   Khabzela would have continued to live had he continued to take antiretrovirals. We will also never know if he would have been one of the 10 percent of people who experience serious side-effects from ARVs, which can also be treated and managed, while on this medication. Why did he die? Many are still bedevilled by that question, more especially so because unlike most South Africans, the deceased had the means to afford the medicine that could potentially have saved his life.    

Khabzela disclosed his HIV status in a recorded message aired as an insert on the station’€™s breakfast programme in April 2003 after he had been off air for a while.

You can’€™t find my voice anywhere. Ei, bafowethu, ngiyasika ngiyanya. Uyazi bengithe ngizothath’€™ irestinyana, neh? Ngivaye ngiyibon’€™ udoctor ukuthi eintlik why ngikhathala? Mhlawumbe yistress uyabona? Because sihlala sithesha all the time. uDoctor wathi: Hhayi uyazi yini? uHIV-positive. Ingiphathe blind mangiyizwe dae ding ngoba yimi engihlala ngiyi-phritsha njalo every Sunday ePYT. Well, amaphutha anjenganjalo em’€™uhlabeni ayenzeka. Ngicel’€™ isupport bafowethu. Ngiyabonga kuGreg. Ngiyabonga kuDirk. Ngiyabonga kuDre. Ngiyabonga kuMa. Ngiyabonga kuSibongile ngokunginakekela. Support njalo all the time. Uyazi umaungangibona ngigeyin’€™ iweight kancane. Thanks for the support bafowethu. Ngizobuy’€™ eshowini. eYami leshow. iNto engifunayo njekini yisupport.

TRANSLATION: Guys, I’€™m sick, very sick. I’€™ve taken some bit of rest. And I went to see a doctor to see why I’€™m always tired. I thought it might be stress-related because I’€™m working all the time. The doctor told me that I’€™m HIV positive. I took that bad because I always preach protection every Sunday at PYT. Well, mistakes like those happen in life. I’€™m asking for your support, guys. Thank you to Greg. Thank you to Dirk. Thank you to Dre. Thank you to Mama. Thank you to Sibongile for taking care of me. Support all the time. If you can see me, I’€™ve gained some weight. Thanks for the support, guys. I will be back on the show. This is my show. All I need is support.                

KHOPOTSO: It was at a time when the South African government was still agonising over whether it should accede to popular demand to offer the life-prolonging medication, antiretrovirals, to people living with AIDS in the public health sector. Seven months later, in November of 2003, Cabinet made the long-awaited decision to avail the medication. Almost two years later, however, the rollout of AIDS treatment is bedevilled by a Minister of Health who tirelessly sows doubt about the efficacy of antiretrovirals and advocates good diet as an alternative.

KHOPOTSO: In his recorded message, DJ Khabzela promised his loyal listeners that he would come back to entertain them on air. Sadly, he didn’€™t. How many more people have died unnecessarily because of the confusion about antiretroviral medicine? How many more will die today, tomorrow and the day after if this doesn’€™t stop?

McGregor’€™s torrid entries about Khabzela’€™s many sexual escapades might further stigmatise HIV as a sexually-transmitted infection caused by reckless behaviour. As an African, you speak no evil of a dead person. But his family, fiancée and his friends spoke openly to the author. Perhaps in the era of HIV and AIDS we have to pull all the stops in an attempt to save people’€™s lives.                      

E-mail Khopotso Bodibe

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