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Pastor Mbulelo Dyasi

Pastor Mbulelo DyasiHIV and AIDS is not our identity

When Pastor Mbulelo Dyasi came face to face with HIV he didn't run away or do anything stupid. Surrounded by support, he says that he faced HIV head-on, never suffering much and never identifying himself with his status. "I am Mbulelo Dyasi - I am not AIDS or HIV", he likes to tell people. Now the popular former Eastern Cape AIDS Ambassador urges other HIV-positive people, especially men and youth, to come forward and stand up to the virus to stop it spreading. "Roadshows, campaigns, awareness-raising and public education…they're only going to work once HIV-positive people, especially males, come out and reveal their HIV status to their partner. Once they do this the virus [becomes] more visible …and can be conquered. The spread can stop, the support can be strengthened, and treatment and good nutrition can begin."

Born and raised in Ilitha Township near the tiny town of Berlin in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, Dyasi showed an interest in gender issues from an early age. With dreams of a career in international peace politics, he naturally gravitated to discussions and workshops on human rights and equality.

When Dyasi married in 2003 he was working for the Umtapo Centre and involved in a Peace and Anti-racism campaign through the Peace Africa Youth Centre. He contracted HIV disease in the same year but fortunately received unqualified support from various people in the Steve Biko Foundation, the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS, and the Treatment Action Campaign.

Most people and my family supported me unconditionally. HIV became just another challenge in my life….[O]rganisations and radio stations started to make use of me after I disclosed my status, because they were involved in many exciting programmes regarding HIV and AIDS. I was, at first, appointed by community-based local development agencies funded by SCAT [Social Change Assistance Trust], and then later adopted by the Eastern Cape AIDS Council as AIDS Ambassador on a consultancy basis. I became the face of HIV and AIDS for many campaigns nationally. I remarried my wife Chumisa Mbewu, who is also HIV-positive, and we are working together in the fight against AIDS in the Eastern Cape and promoting couple testing.

Dyasi was nominated for the International Visitors' Programme in the United States through the Masimanyane Women's Support Centre. He attended meetings throughout the US, visiting Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta, and met with government policy makers, NGOs and individuals living openly with HIV, both in hospitals and support groups. He was able to see, firsthand, how the different federal governments, hospitals and NGOs implemented various programmes providing support and care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

"That was my interest because in the US there are people who have been living with the virus for more than 20 years - people on treatment (ARVs) - and know how to live with HIV longer. I wanted to know how to live longer. What surprised me is that people living with HIV are leaders [there]. They are university professors, they are people leading HIV programmes - unlike here eMzantsi ['in the South' in isiXhosa] where so many HIV-positive people just attend meeting after meeting as clients and listen to talks. There, they are involved. They are making a difference, taking the lead."

While Pastor Dyasi found the US to be more advanced in terms of HIV treatment and counselling, he felt his own home province was ahead when it came to social mobilisation as well as multi-sectoral responses and approaches.

Pastor Dyasi currently works for the Promotion of Rural and Urban Livelihoods (RULIV) organisation, coordinating their policy targets division. Here he organises workshops, at both national and local level, on social and resource mobilisation; human rights; gender equality; and HIV and AIDS.

He also works in other sectors, particularly men-focussed, on a voluntary basis. Pastor Dyasi, who is also member of the South African National AIDS Council's (SANAC) men's sector national committee, now uses his experiences to make a difference in the country, through newspaper columns, HIV and AIDS radio talk shows and motivational talks. He leads by example and pledges publicly "not to infect others", hoping that others will indeed follow his inspirational lead. Pastor Dyasi is a firm supporter of the Metropolitan Foundation's Live the Future Programme. This Programme seeks to create awareness, transfer knowledge, empower, and inspire personal and group action to effectively address the AIDS epidemic and create a "Summer for All" scenario. For more information visit www.livethefuture.co.za.
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