Bonginkosi Mthembu

Prevention and Treatment Literacy Coordinator, TAC

“The future looks bright to me,” says Bonginkosi Mthembu, whose bubbly laugh speaks of the 32-year-old’s energy and positive attitude. “You know, when I first started to volunteer for the Treatment Action Campaign, more than a decade ago, I used to say to myself, ‘One day I’ll work in that office in Cape Town.’ And now I am.”

Mthembu hails from Duduza in Ekurhuleni. His involvement in activism is born of two factors: at the age of 20, he was diagnosed with HIV and, as a gay man, he was concerned about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) people who were persecuted, harassed and killed for their sexual orientation.

He found out about his own status while working as a volunteer counsellor, soon afterwards he joined the TAC district office in Duduza and became a TAC prevention and treatment literacy co-ordinator. He did not apply for a disability grant because “I wanted to make it on my own,” he says.

Mthembu’s activism has taken him even further from Duduza than Cape Town. He has represented South Africa at conferences around the world as an Ambassador of Hope. Mthembu attended the International Aids Conferences in Washington DC in 2012, and he was a delegate at the 20th International Saids Conference in Melbourne, Australia in July this year.

He’s been an integral part of a number of Aids awareness campaigns, including Does HIV Look Like Me?, an international initiative, and Positive Heroes, a South African non-profit that uses stories such as his to show how people with HIV can and do lead normal and productive lives.

Mthembu is on the national task team convened by the department of justice and constitutional development a couple of years ago to strengthen interventions aimed at promoting and enhancing the rights of LGBTI communities.

Mthembu is currently doing a degree in development studies with Unisa. His plan is to one day have his own consultancy offering leadership skills and advice to young people. “I want to inspire other young people to know that with HIV, you can still do it.” — Mandi Smallhorne