Zimbabwe: Unsung HIV/AIDS hero alive spreads message of hope

Chitungwiza – In 2001, when Reki Jimu was 30, his wife died at the age of 27.

Jimu, now 51, said the couple’s two sons died prematurely. Both were underweight and frail, although the couple were previously blessed with a baby girl, Faith Jimu, who is now a 29-year-old mother of three.

Jimu was born in Zimbabwe’s Central Province of Mashonaland in the Mazowe Citrus Estate, his rural home is in the Mukumbura area of ​​the province in the village of Chigawo.

Two years after his wife, Tendai Goba, died after a very long illness that he said eroded her weight, Jimu was tested for HIV and found positive.

“My wife Tendai died of AIDS in 2001, although at the time we had no proof that she had it. She had Kaposi’s sarcoma — a cancer associated with AIDS,” Jimu told IPS.

His diagnosis did not dampen his zest for life – although he encountered much discouragement from relatives, friends and colleagues.

“When I started losing weight, people said I was being bewitched by my brother, who they said had goblins that sucked my blood,” Jimu said.

He said the slander began when his wife and two sons were still alive.

“Some naysayers were even blunt in their statements in the early days when my wife was ill when our sons were still alive. People said my sons were very thin because they had AIDS. We heard that and never said anything back. But of course our sons died prematurely because they were all underweight (but) before we knew they had HIV,” Jimu said.

But thank God, said Jimu, the couple’s daughter, who was born before the couple contracted HIV/AIDS and lived on without the disease and is now a parent.

But Jimu never gave up on life, even when his first wife kicked the bucket.

Jimu now lives in Chitungwiza, a town 25 kilometers southeast of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Shortly after testing positive for HIV, Jimu immediately started antiretroviral treatment in 2003, and it has kept him going for nearly two decades.

In fact, 51-year-old Jimu has been living with HIV/AIDS for almost two decades and is consistently on his antiretroviral treatment.

Thanks to his belief in ARV treatment, Jimu now looks like any other sane person.

“Look, I look good. Nobody can say that I am HIV positive. Nobody can tell I’m on ARV drugs unless I tell them myself,” Jimu boasted.

He went on with his life despite being HIV positive.

In 2007, Jimu became the founder, leader and pastor of the Christian Fellowship Network Trust, a self-help group which he said has become a key factor in supporting people living with HIV and AIDS in Chitungwiza.

He hasn’t stopped embracing life, and through the help of HIV/AIDS support groups, Jimu said he remarried a year after testing positive.

Francisca Thomson, his second wife of the same age, is also living with HIV.

“Francisca is my queen, very beautiful girl I can tell you that and we are so happy together,” Jimu boasted.

Jimu said he, like any other average person, has become a beacon of hope for many living with HIV.

He said he became open about his HVI/AIDS status at a time when the public loathed people like him and HIV/AIDS stigma was widespread.

“I’m one of those people who used to appear on national TV in an HIV/AIDS commercial where I said I didn’t run the red light… I’m a pastor… I’m HIV positive whose ads are from Population Services International,” Jimu said

Now a prominent campaigner against HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, Jimu cannot hold back his gratitude to Chitungwiza General Hospital for what he says has made him what he is today – an epic HIV/AIDS peer educator.

Around 1.4 million people live with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

Living with HIV hasn’t forced Jimu into a cocoon.

Instead, he said the condition had merely made him an ardent defender of many others.

“I am now very active in providing routine counseling services and spiritual guidance to many who have newly tested positive for HIV and seeing myself with the positive attitude that I have. Many adjust quickly to their HIV-positive status and move on with their lives. ‘ said Jimu.

However, it wasn’t easy for Jimu to get to where he is now.

He said over the years he has faced stigma and said many people around him are disgusted just to see him sick.

Jimu said the landlords quickly evicted him when they found out about his status.

“As a tenant in the many houses I’ve lived in, I was quickly evicted because people were afraid to live with me because they thought I would one day wake up dead in their houses or infect them with HIV. I would hear people gossiping about my illness, some saying I am a moving skeleton now, some urging me to seek healing from prophets, some saying I must go back to the village and die there,” Jimu said.