In-depth: Love in the time of HIV/AIDS

ZIMBABWE: "He begged for forgiveness and I did just that"

Samuel's HIV-positive status eventually brought the couple closer together
Harare, 1 December 2008 (PlusNews) - The story of Samuel and Stella Malunga* is one of love and forgiveness in a time of HIV and AIDS. They met and fell in love while studying law at a university in neighbouring South Africa. Samuel graduated two years before Stella and returned to Zimbabwe but kept their relationship going until she was able to join him in 2000.

They got married shortly afterwards but before Stella could find work, they discovered she was expecting twins. Samuel encouraged her to become a full-time mother.

Everything was fine, or so Stella thought, until Samuel suddenly fell ill in April 2008. In a very short time, he went from being the family breadwinner to being dependant on Stella to bathe, feed and dress him.

A doctor recommended that the couple take an HIV test. Stella did not see the need but agreed, if only to prove the doctor wrong. The results came as a shock: Samuel was HIV positive but Stella was negative.

After receiving the news, Samuel confessed to having another "wife" and child elsewhere, and to having had numerous affairs. He begged Stella for forgiveness, but after months of dealing with her husband's illness alone, Stella was too shocked and angry to respond.

"I never suspected he would cheat on me, and never saw any signs he was cheating," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "What made me angrier was that he had cheated on me and not even used protection."

''I know what I did to my wife was very cruel and selfish, but the love she has shown me is what has made me well again''
Stella decided to leave their home in the leafy Harare suburb of Mount Pleasant with her two sons, put Samuel in the care of a hospice, and start a new life without him. But after a month away from her husband she still could not find peace with herself.

"A part of me really yearned to see him. I loved him even though he had hurt me, so I made a decision to go and see him," Stella recalled. "I could barely recognise him; he was wasted and very sick. The antiretroviral therapy (ART) was not working very well on him.

"He cried when he saw me and told me his life without me and the children was meaningless. He begged for forgiveness and I did just that. I told the hospital officials I was taking my husband home."

Samuel says he will never forget the care and support his wife has given him. At a time when his own relatives were too terrified to come near him, Stella would take his head in her lap and stroke it until he fell asleep.

"Even when I was at my lowest, she told me I would be fine. All I wanted was to get well and make her happy. She had such hope for us starting afresh," he said.

Five months after being reunited with his wife and leaving the hospice, Samuel is responding well to treatment and his health has improved greatly. He believes his HIV-positive status has brought them closer together.

"I know what I did to my wife was very cruel and selfish, but the love she has shown me is what has made me well again," he said. "Now all I want to do is to protect her and make sure I don't infect her."

*Not their real names

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