The interview: Longtime HIV activist Johanna Ncala on life, love and pregnancy

The interview: Longtime HIV activist Johanna Ncala on life, love and pregnancy

Ncala was a medical technologist when she tested herself for HIV in 1993. At the time, treatment was not available in South Africa and for many, the diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence. Today, however, things are different. What’s the question she’s asked most often about living with HIV? How to start a family.

Johanna Ncala, 40, has been seeing the father of her 2-year-old daughter for four years, and admits that distance isn’t the only thing complicating her love life. Since she was diagnosed positive in 1993, Johanna has had to rethink relationships and what her status might mean to the men in her life. She spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about it in this 2008 interview.

“I’m in a long-distance relationship: he’s in Mozambique, I’m in South Africa. We’re both activists so we don’t have time for each other.

“It’s not easy for a woman to get a man in general and it’s worse when you’re HIV positive. It’s not easy for men to accept their status so you’ll find that person you’re telling you’re HIV positive, he is also HIV positive but he doesn’t want to accept it so he’d rather have negative women around him…. After my diagnosis, I stayed single for a long, long time before I had a relationship.

“It was difficult for me to disclose to other people, so I told myself, ‘I don’t want to get involved, I need time just to find myself.’ It took me five years to disclose to anyone and, fortunately, that’s when I met him.

“We met at a regional workshop where we had all these activists coming together, and in the evenings we would go to the bar. That’s how we started talking and just knowing each other, but he didn’t disclose his status to me even though he knew I was positive.

“Pregnancy is scary for people living with HIV, so we need to find a way of communicating these things. I’m developing a pamphlet about the reproductive rights of HIV-positive people, and it talks about ways to get pregnant.”

Johanna Ncala, 2008

“At first, when I thought he was negative, I wanted to know, is he scared to sleep with me? It was seven months or so before he told me he was HIV positive. I don’t know, it’s difficult for a man, I don’t know why.

“I was a medical technologist and I tested myself in 1993 for HIV. There was no hope in those days, but people now are living their lives – they want to have babies. When I was pregnant I would go to these workshops, stand up before everyone, and they would ask, “But, Johanna, how did you do it?”

“I would always tell them that if they wanted to know they’d have to come and talk to me about it later. [Pregnancy] is scary for people, so we need to find a way of communicating these things, much like we have a problem of how to communicate the circumcision issue … At the moment I’m developing a pamphlet about the reproductive rights of HIV positive people, and it talks about ways to get pregnant.

“But it’s been four years (of long distance) and it’s becoming difficult for me. You want to make your relationship work if you find someone who accepts you and loves you…because where will I find someone else that understands me? I shudder to think what I would do if he told me he didn’t love me anymore because I’ve tried everything in my power to make this relationship work.”

This article first appeared in United Nations former humanitarian news service, IRIN, on February 13, 2008. IRIN has since gone independent and is now The New Humanitarian. 

Laura Lopez Gonzalez @ All Rights Reserved

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