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Saturday 12 March 2005
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Maids, madams and the "terrible thing"

Dear Diary

Ten years into South Africa's democracy, one needs only scratch the surface to see the true colours of what many refer to as our 'Rainbow Nation'.

In some instances, the HIV/AIDS pandemic even acts as an effective scratching tool to reveal what really lies beneath the bright colours of hope and reconciliation.

So it's no surprise when news items say black maids are being tricked into testing for HIV by white employers, and then promptly dismissed if they test positive.

This was the case of a domestic worker from Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, whose employer recently took her for an HIV test, under the pretext of getting her medical cover.

Not only is this an infringement of the individual's legal rights, it is also an affront to everything black people have fought so hard for.

Maybe President Thabo Mbeki actually hit the nail on the head when he turned last month's parliamentary debate on HIV and rape into a broadside against "bigots" who, he said, regarded black people as "sub-human disease carriers".

While newspapers tried to remain "politically correct" by making special mention of the fact that the AIDS Law Project (ALP), a local advocacy group, was only dealing with four cases of AIDS discrimination against domestic workers, this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

What of those domestics who have no idea that groups like ALP exist, or that they are protected by the country's constitution? These same 'servants' often also cannot read or write.

In the light of the explosive prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country, prospective employers claim they need to take general precautions when employees might have to mind children.

How ironic then, that the madams and masters of corporate South Africa were themselves raised by the very domestics they now see as a risk to their own health and that of their offspring.

So it seems everything we have learnt about "ubuntu", that ancient African word, meaning "humanity to others", falls away when our fear of the unknown takes control of our logic. Just like those similar fears took control all those years ago when HIV/AIDS wasn't even heard of.

I was recently forced to disclose my HIV status to my domestic, Cynthia, because during her offer to help me move house, she took it upon herself to throw out my month's supply of anti-AIDS medication.

And, like all the other people I've found it necessary to disclose to, Cynthia reacted with utter disbelief because of my healthy appearance.

The subject of her own status does not bother me, but I have noticed the extra attention from her when she performs the tiniest tasks for me. It's just like when my mother does little special things to make my life more convenient.

How then do madams, who know the HIV status of their employees, behave in their presence?

I think that if we are unable to deal with the results of our curiosity, then some things are better left alone, because millions of people in our country, in Africa and the world did not fight against apartheid, racism and white domination to create space for them to continue to be subjected to new forms of dehumanising and insulting discrimination.

Forever Positive

Hayden Horner

Previous Entry :: All Diary Entries :: Next Entry
Diary Entries
The Mis-education of HIV/AIDS Clinicians
HIV Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Stigma and HIV/AIDS: lethal bedfellows
In remembrance of our women and children
Maids, madams and the "terrible thing"
Internet love and inter-related HIV-prejudice
Previously eyes-wide-shut on HIV and religion
Love, lies and disclosure
Black pot and blacker kettle
Things better left unsaid on the bus
Food for thought while waiting to die
Test results not all good
Diary speaks back
The truth about disclosure
Dangerous myths and damaged angels
Not the final countdown
Sticks and stones may break my bones
A spade is still a spade

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