Mandla Majola: Finding his life’s path

Mandla Majola: Finding  his life’s path

At the time it seemed a frivolous cause, maybe even an illegitimate one. But when the disease found its way into their family, Mandla realised he was in it for the long run.

The death of Mandla’s aunt was a difficult time for his family. She had been clear about her HIV status but the family elders were still in denial. Their explanation for her death was that their child had been bewitched. ‘The family never spoke about her cause of death,’ recalls Mandla.

After his aunt’s death, Mandla was determined to find out more about HIV/AIDS and make a difference to people’s lives.

It was never a selfish decision. Commenting on why he decided he had to be part of the movement all those years ago, Mandla speaks about growing up in an environment that taught him about the importance of community.

‘It’s always about your neighbour; it’s a foreign thing to think about myself and my family. I worry about the child next door, I didn’t grow up in an environment that says it’s not my business,’ he says. It is this attitude that allows him to declare himself a humanist.

Today, Mandla is the Western Cape’s provincial coordinator, overseeing 60 TAC branches in Khayelitsha. The TAC has come a long way from its humble beginnings at the Klipfontein branch, where they started with 30 members. ‘Our meeting venue was tiny, and most people were standing outside listening in through the windows,’ says Mandla.

Back then, Mandla says the TAC was no more than a group of women who had to build a bigger network. Although HIV/AIDS affected both men and women, it was always the women who felt its wrath, and who became caregivers to the sick. Grandmothers had to nurse their children back to health, and looked after orphaned children. Now, the TAC’s leadership is dominated by women.

As long as people are dying from HIV/AIDS, the TAC will be relevant. The organisation has lasted over the years because of its understanding that some battles cannot be won in isolation. It is imperative that they create working relationships with other organisations. Because it is always the first to extend a helping hand to partner organisations, it is never short of assistance when it is required. But there are still issues that Mandla worries about, including finances.

Recently, the TAC has been going through a very difficult financial period, funding is drying up, and without financial muscle, it is difficult to continue treatment literacy programmes and the other programmes the TAC provides for the community.

Mandla is also concerned about the disconnection between issues identified at district level offices and those at the national office of the TAC. One such issue is substance abuse. ‘Many people think it’s irrelevant but we see so many 14-year-olds being abused because they are busy with tik,’ says Mandla.

‘The only thing that they have is sexual intercourse to get money, and that is a direct threat to our prevention and strategies of HIV,’ he explains.

But, ‘If there is no funding for drugs and substance abuse, we can’t address these issues and then we are irrelevant,’ he says.

While the TAC has come a long way, there is a lot more work to be done. There are many social ills and socio-economic inequities that continue to drive the spread of HIV/AIDS. There are still many people who do not know enough about HIV/AIDS, and there are even more people who rely on the TAC to keep up the good fight.

While some argue that TAC is an organisation that is impatient in its activism. Mandla is adamant that they cannot be anything else. ‘We are activists, we can’t wait for the government when people are dying now.