It’s 7 o’clock in the evening and Katlego and Mpho are catching up with the latest news on former president Nelson Mandela’s ailing health when I visit them at their modest flat in the Johannesburg CBD. As they turn their attention to me, they sit side by side on their red modern-design couch, smiling and giggling, looking lovingly into each other’s eyes and touching and caressing all the while. The young couple has known each other since 1998. But as Katlego says, theirs has been an on-and-off relationship.
‘I met her through a friend of mine, that’s her cousin and then we dated about a year later. She was still in school and I was past my matric and I felt that I don’t want to be that guy who will be remembered as the guy who got in the way of her passing her matric. And then, I sub-consciously and even consciously sabotaged the relationship throughout all of those years. We would break up, make up, break up for two years, make up. Now I strongly believe that this is exactly what she wants because we have been talking a lot. Now we’re back forever. No more break-ups’, says Katlego, and then he laughs.
The two got back together again last year after several break-ups. Before they tried romance one more time last year, they had another short-lived relationship in 2004. At that time a drastic development had occurred in Katlego’s life. He found out that he was HIV-positive. Mpho remembers a braai outing to Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, one weekend when Katlego courted her for the umpteenth time. It was on that day that Katlego told her the news.
‘He looked me in the eyes, held my hand and I started being a little bit shaky. And then, he took off his glasses and I saw his eyes were red’¦ tears. And I asked him if he’s okay. He said: ‘Yes, I’m good’. And I’m like: ‘What’s up, then’? He said: ‘Uhm, baby, I’m HIV-positive’. And I saw tears rolling down. Hahaha! You know, at first, I didn’t believe it. I was like: ‘Ag, come on, you’re just joking’. And I asked him: ‘Are you for real?’ He said: ‘Yes, I’m HIV-positive’. I said: ‘Oh, okay, we’ll deal with this’.
But why would Mpho be so accepting of a man who has dumped her and admits to sabotaging their relationship over a number of years?
‘L O V E’, she spells it out before saying it out loud: ‘Love’.
At that point, she looks at her partner, Katlego who has become emotional.
‘He’s crying’, she lets out.
‘It just happens to be some few droplets of water in my eyes. I think it has to do with the rain out there. But I’m not crying’, Katlego denies it.
Katlego could deny it, but he did, indeed, shed a tear. Then, he explained that he was surprised by Mpho’s level of understanding and caring attitude when he told her he had HIV.
‘She was actually the first person that I disclosed to. So, I didn’t know how people normally react. I just honestly thought that she’ll push me away and walk away’, he says.
But she didn’t. On the contrary, Mpho resolved to confront her fears. She did that by reading up on HIV, which has helped her cope with loving someone who lives with the condition.
‘The only difference between me and him is that he’s HIV-positive and I’m negative. I took time. I did my HIV and AIDS courses to learn more about it because I wanted to be with him. So, I’ve got more knowledge about HIV and AIDS. That’s why I think I’m more comfortable around him’, says Mpho.
Is it something that you talk about, you guys’¦ Is it something that comes up in discussion quite a lot? I ask them.
‘We know that HIV is there. But we don’t know talk about it every now and then. We’ve got better things to talk about ‘ the future’, is Mpho’s answer before Katlego could say: ‘We’re living our lives, but we know that we need to make some few adjustments, we need to take extra precautions, and that’s basically that. A day will go, two days, three days without us even talking about HIV. There are a lot of things that we have in common that we talk about – our dreams, our aspirations, the things that we’d love to accomplish, the things that keep us happy, the things that make us who we are’.
Katlego and Mpho are but one couple among many where one partner is HIV-positive. For purposes of this report, they didn’t use their real names. In next week’s Living with AIDS feature they tell us why and they speak about love in spite of HIV.