I have HIV, says South African 'Pop Idol' singer

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The Independent Online

Like other finalists on South Africa's talent show Idols, Tender Mavundla dreams of a career in the music business. Unlike her rivals, however, she has HIV and knows she will die prematurely.

In a revelation that rocked the prime-time show, the shop worker from KwaZulu-Natal said she wanted her condition "out in the open" to help inspire other sufferers.

Speaking to The Independent from the contestants' house, she said: "I feel normal at the moment and don't want people's pity. I've got a good voice and would like to use it to bring pleasure to others.

"I do have HIV but that does not make me any different from someone with cancer or a diabetic. We should not be hidden away and not talked about because we've all got something to offer."

Ms Mavundla , 26, from Port Shepstone, near Durban, beat thousands of hopefuls to reach the last 12 with some critics tipping the soul singer to win.

The programme follows a similar format to Britain's Pop Idol with the judges including a Simon Cowell-type in the shape of music consultant Randall Abrahams. But his put-downs do not intimidate Ms Mavundla who has had to cope with far bigger challenges.

"I found out in September 2001 when I went to see my doctor with a problem with my chest. He said I should have a blood test and I was diagnosed with TB and then HIV.

"I was young and did not face up to it. I was in denial."

She then embarked on a hedonistic lifestyle. "I went out in Jo'burg and partied hard, drinking, having sex with people – if they didn't want a condom that was fine. I didn't take my antiretrovirals because I didn't really care."

The debauched lifestyle led to two bouts of illness after which she agreed to counselling, accepted her HIV and began to get her life in order.

"I faced up to what I had inside me. I began eating better, taking some exercise and took my medication more regularly. After six months I was happier inside and ready to deal with my future."

She thinks she knows who infected her but holds no bitterness and has remained friends with him.

"I don't blame him. He didn't force me to have sex without a condom. I just did not think, I was young and immature. In 1997 I took a wrong step after winning a music competition. I broke out of my mom's cocoon and availed myself to strangers and showed them a good time," she added.

South Africa has one of the world's heaviest caseloads of HIV/Aids, with around 5.5 million of the 48 million population infected.

The South African government has been accused of complacency over the pandemic but this year launched a new Aids plan to reduce infections by 2011.

Ms Mavundla said telling her housemates was stressful. "My medication stays in the fridge and I wasn't going to lie about it. I think one of the contestants was worried but she was okay. I can understand why because people are afraid."

Dr Vhumani Magezi at charity Aids Foundation of South Africa, commended her. "When people who are HIV-positive keep it secret, it reinforces the denial among the population that it does not exist.

"I salute this lady. She gives a positive view of HIV and changes the traditional pattern of things."

Ms Mavundla has to take medication every 12 hours which has taken its toll. "Anti-retrovirals are not a good thing. When I started taking them regularly I got sick and they made me look very scrawny and my legs became very little.

"But they have had one good side-effect and that's that my boobs are now very big," she added.