“Our parents struggled against apartheid, they wanted to be free. And it is the same with HIV/AIDS. This is the new struggle.” – Thembi Ngubane
Thembi Ngubane was a 19-year-old South African woman from Khayelitsha township, outside Cape Town. She never thought she would inspire people from around the world with her life’s story. Surely, she never thought she would continue to be an inspiration even after her death.
But when Thembi was given a tape recorder by NPR’s Radio Diaries, and asked to record the day to day experiences of her life as one of South Africa’s millions of HIV+ youth, everything changed. In light of the severe social stigma that remains around HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa, Thembi had until then been relatively silent about her condition. Even when Radio Diaries played segments of her story on National Public Radio in the U.S., she did not want her story broadcast in her home country.
Yet, in the personal to political tradition of so many social change movements in the U.S. – the 1970’s feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and now the body acceptance movements – Thembi took her personal story and connected it to a broader global movement around HIV and AIDS acceptance. She traveled to the U.S. and met with former President Bill Clinton and then-Senator Barak Obama. In March 2007, she spoke to the South African Parliament about the need to address AIDS-based discrimination in her country. Indeed, in the sheer act of telling her story, Thembi galvanized a movement around acceptance of HIV and AIDS both in South Africa and around the world.
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