31 year-old, Khangelani Motha is currently a patient in the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust’s (HACT) Respite Unit where he is being treated for TB. Khangelani is eager to share his story in the hope that it will help others not make the same mistakes that has led him to this point in his life…
Intelligent and athletic, Khangelani was good at school and had a potentially bright future ahead of him. However, after the death of his father, when he was just 15 Khangelani’s life changed drastically as his mother remarried and he was sent to live with his cousins. Prior to this, Khangelani’s mother was in a relatively stable job as a primary school teacher; his gogo also worked so there was money coming into the family. Khangelani passed his final exams at grade 12 Matric and made it into University but then things at home changed significantly and his life started to fall apart.
“Not long after my brother and my gogo got sick, my mother met another man,” Khangelani explains. “She has always looked after me well but after she got married and moved in with her new husband, I couldn’t join her – as is the custom – and had to stay with my cousins. After the loss of my father, I missed my mother and gogo deeply. Anger and pain grew inside me.”
The year was 2007 and Khangelani was 20 years old. His mother stayed in contact but the loss of his father and the isolation from the rest of his close family grieved him. Khangelani dropped out of his studies.
“..it was also the money; studying was too expensive,”Khangelani recalls. “I remember doing a part-time computer course for six months…and you know life changed once my mother left. She made sure I had money for food. She gave it to my cousins for the grocery shopping, but I didn’t get along with my cousins so I didn’t always eat.”
Then, at the age of 21 years when a promising young man like Khangelani might normally be preparing for a bright future, he allowed himself to try the kind of hard drugs rife in so many local communities where employment and hope are just distant dreams.
“They are the kind of drugs which make you feel good now and even good tomorrow. They stop you feeling anger and pain. But they are dangerous to your life and it is very, very hard to give them up.”
Khangelani became very ill for the first time in 2012. He was 25 years old and had been living on the streets around Pinetown, taking drugs, and moving back and forth between the streets and his cousins’ place. It was then that he found out he was HIV positive with full-blown Tuberculosis (TB).
“I started HIV and TB treatment after attending the local clinic and getting some counselling and soon felt a lot better. But then I went back to my cousin’s and the old frustrations came back. I stopped taking my treatment.”
The TB came back and the cycle continued – Khangelani started treatment, felt better, went back to the streets to escape his frustration, got into drugs and failed to finish yet another course of treatment.
In 2018, Khangelani became seriously ill. The symptoms of TB were back but much, much worse. At his cousins’ place he was hardly eating, wracked by diarrhea, weak and battling to breathe.
“I slept all day, wore nappies and couldn’t even walk to the toilet, let alone the clinic. I got so ill that I had to be carried to the clinic. This was in June this year. Eventually I was admitted here to the HACT’s (Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust) Respite Unit. We knew about it because my uncle and gogo had both passed away in the Unit back in 2015.I started the treatment again.”
Khangelani describes his care in HACT’s Unit as “very different to what I had previously experienced at clinics and hospitals. They care for you personally,” he says enthusiastically. “They give you more attention; you get good, healthy food. The nurses are great – better than in the hospitals. Now I can take 40 to 50 steps and breathe more freely,” he smiles.
When he was taken by the Unit’s staff to the hospital for scans, they found active TB with sores on his lungs. Khangelani says he is not in a rush to go back home because he wants to get completely better this time; to stay on his medication. Khangelani is also adamant he does not want to get back in to the same pattern of drugs again. In the Respite Unit, Khangelani has had the chance and support to stay off the drugs.
“My advice to others is NOT to take drugs – you will make bad decisions, get sick and then die. I was on drugs. I had no idea what I was doing and who I got the HIV from. On drugs you will feel good today but terrible later. Just trying to stop after taking drugs for one day is hard – the drugs damage you. Choose who your friends are – don’t choose bad friends.”
He also talks about the need to deal with his anger and pain. “You need to try to deal with your problems in a different way. Do sports, talk to someone you can trust to heal from the anger. I never talked to anyone about the anger and pain of the loss of my father and mother, of being left alone. I didn’t care about myself and I thought I didn’t care about anything. But I do care about what happens to me. Yes, and I believe in God.”
Khangelani finds it hard to think about what will happen next. He has decided, though, to take one step at a time. He says it would like to continue receiving counselling, something HACT offers at its walk-in clinic. He also knows the value of having a job to help him stay off drugs.
“I would like to find a job or do volunteering and have something worthwhile to do. I want to be able to go out in the morning and to come back in the evening. Lying around unemployed all day just gets you thinking and that gets you into the wrong things.”
In addition, honesty with those who care for you is important, he says, although not easy.
“It helps that my mum knows now how I feel. I am grateful that she is very supportive and both mum and my stepdad visit me here. Mum wants me to talk about what I have been through; to help others to stay out of trouble and stay away from drugs. So this is why I want to share my story...”
Story written by: Rebekka Stredwick