I had been hired as a cleaner by the people running Blouberg Homes, an agency that offered people houses to rent in Bloubergstrand. For five years I worked there, living in our house in Khayelitsha, while my husband looked after our home in the Transkei. Thumela used to help at Blouberg Homes and was such a hard worker.
If our madam said, 'Do all the cleaning and iron all the sheets,' we would finish many hours early, even if we were working in a very big house. Thumela was not afraid of hard work. In June 2000, when she was 30, we went to the day hospital together because she had started to get sick, and she had an HIV test. We still didn't understand exactly how this HIV affects a person.
We learnt all those things as time went on, because the test showed that Thumela, too, was HIV positive. Just under two years after she was diagnosed, she started to get very sick. When she reached the fourth phase, she was so thin and weak it was clear she was dying. It took only a month from the time she became very ill until she died.
I had been washing her, giving her medicines and feeding her, because she was too weak even to pick up a spoon. It is a very difficult thing, to nurse your own dying child. When things got particularly bad, we took her to Groote Schuur Hospital and then, when the doctors said she would pass away very soon, to the hospice at Conradie Hospital. She was there for two weeks and in March 2002, she died.
Otto and I were in Cape Town when Vusi starting getting a lot of colds, a very sore stomach and bad headaches. We took him to Groote Schuur Hospital, then GF Jooste Hospital. The doctor told us he had HIV, although we did not yet understand what that meant.
This doctor kept on talking about a new treatment that was coming, which would help Vusi recover. He was given some tablets and treatment for TB, and for a while he did get better. He even went back to work. But six months later he fell ill again. I looked after him, and was at his bedside when he died.By Jo-Anne Smetherham