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.

‘€œI 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.

‘€œHe 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: ‘€œYes, I’€™m good’€. And I’€™m like: ‘€œWhat’€™s up, then’€? He said: ‘€œUhm, baby, I’€™m HIV-positive’€. And I saw tears rolling down. Hahaha! You know, at first, I didn’€™t believe it. I was like: ‘€œAg, come on, you’€™re just joking’€. And I asked him: ‘€œAre you for real?’€ He said: ‘€œYes, I’€™m HIV-positive’€. I said: ‘€œOh, 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?

‘€œL  O V E’€, she spells it out before saying it out loud: ‘€œLove’€.

At that point, she looks at her partner, Katlego who has become emotional.

‘€œHe’€™s crying’€, she lets out.

‘€œIt 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.

‘€œShe 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.

‘€œThe 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.

‘€œWe 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: ‘€œWe’€™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.              

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