KHOPOTSO: If memories can be taken to the grave, the latest party Peter hosted in December, would probably be one of the two that he would be smiling about for eternity. Had he known, he would have probably said that this was his exit party from life here on earth. The other one was in April when he threw a party to celebrate 20 years of living with HIV and to say ‘€œthank you’€ to all those who had supported him over that period. I remember his lack of modesty when I interviewed him shortly after that party. I made the mistake in one of my leading questions of saying there were some 100 people in attendance.

PETER BUSSE: Don’€™t sell me short. There weren’€™t a hundred people. There were 250 friends and colleagues.    

KHOPOTSO: A little over a week before Peter Busse died I had called him on his

cellphone and in his typically forthright, yet colourful and cheerful self, he announced not so long into our conversation that ‘€œKhopotso, darling, I’€™m hosting a small party and it’€™s kind of rude that I’€™m on the phone with you. Let me call you tomorrow morning’€. We said our good-byes early that Friday evening before Christmas, unaware that that would be the very last time we’€™d ever chat. But not wanting him to worry about calling me back the next morning, I quickly wrote him a short text message to convey one from a mutual friend, the reason I had called him.                                              

Busse was always the life and soul of the party, but at his party in December, reveals another mutual friend who attended, Peter was not his usual self. It’€™s reported that ‘€œhe was tired’€ and that ‘€œhe spent most of the evening in bed’€. Earlier in the year, Peter had intimated to me that he was exhausted from his work on HIV and AIDS education, here and abroad. He described his exhaustion in an extremely profound and prophetic manner.

PETER BUSSE: That’€™s a feeling which I’€™ve had many times, of like, ‘€œI cannot do this anymore. I am just tired. I just want to kind of rest. And I want to rest, like, for so long that it just like eases into death’€.                              

KHOPOTSO: He eventually died, and quite unexpectedly, last Friday morning on January the 06th. But, as he thought about death and dying, Peter never really viewed that eventuality as a big ending.    

PETER BUSSE: Your residue remains scattered (he chuckles) across hundreds of people, that you, in a sense, continue to live. You know, if I were to die today I would continue to be a kind of reality in many people’€™s lives for a long time to come. I don’€™t see death as the end. I think it’€™s just like a change.    

KHOPOTSO: And change he has brought to many lives in his own lifetime, tracking the   ‘€œlate forties’€, as he would often say, shy to reveal his true age. In 1987, two years after his own diagnosis with HIV, Peter joined the cause of teaching and creating awareness about the infection. Before the end of that decade, he and a group of others, including the late anti-apartheid, gay rights and AIDS activist Simon Nkoli, founded the Township AIDS Project, based in White City Jabavu, Soweto. Amongst many of his involvements following that, he was recently the chairperson of the community track of the 13th International AIDS Conference, held in Durban, in 2000.

At a time when antiretroviral therapy was available to only a few who could afford it in South Africa, Busse was lucky enough to have the means and support to gain access to the medication. By his own admission, in part, he owed his 20 years of living with HIV to the medicine, which he started taking in the late 1990s. But with all the love and support from his family, friends and colleagues, plus the wealth of knowledge he had, including the best medical care he could get, Busse was not perfect at taking care of himself.

PETER BUSSE: I’€™m basically a human being. I’€™m not that compliant with my taking of my ARVs, which I should be ‘€“ and, which, I feel quite so shy to talk about publicly – but I’€™m not, you know. Pierre, a friend of mine asked me ‘€˜when do you take your ARVs in the morning’€™?

And I said ‘€˜no specific time. I just take it when I have breakfast and that can be anytime from, like, 05h00 a.m. until noon’€™. And he was kind of quite shocked’€¦ ‘€˜Some times even later’€™. So, there, a big confession. And, you know that I smoke. You’€™ve seen me during meetings, like, every break, puff, puff, puff. I don’€™t kind of look after myself in this, like, perfect, cocoonish way. But I’€™d say access to treatment, love and support and, also, just having a very positive attitude.          

KHOPOTSO: His attitude caused a lot of the people surrounding him constant worry, especially those who knew that he had a chronic Hepatitis B infection, dating back to before he was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. It is believed that this condition, accompanied by a depleted immune system as a result of HIV and AIDS, ultimately led to his death. Memories of Peter Busse will always be fond. His spirit will live on in plenty parties to come. His teachings will continue to change and, potentially, save lives. Personally, I will always remember his generous and loving nature, his hearty laughter and the twinkle in his eye. Busse will be cremated at noon at the Thom Kight funeral parlour in Vrededorp, Johannesburg, on Saturday, the 14th. A memorial service will be held in his honour at 15h00 that afternoon at Parktown, Johannesburg’€™s Linder Auditorium.


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