She introduced herself to the world with something she called her HIV prayer."Hello, HIV, you trespasser," Young and beautiful, Thembi emerged from the shantytowns of South Africa on a mission to take on HIV. She travelled the world, met Barack Obama and spoke to congress. During her short life Thembi lived strong and proud, she welcomed the world into her life with open arms, her words giving hope to millions; this heartrending doc takes you on her incredible journey.
"They locked me in this room and everyone was shouting at me"
. This is the reaction Thembi had to face when she discovered she was HIV positive. Yet she made a decision not to suffer her fate in silence, as so many other South Africans do. "I thought, if this is the way a HIV person has to live, I'm going to fight for my life"
, Thembi says with defiance in her eyes: "I'm not ashamed"
. Thembi's charisma and infectious smile were underlaid by a steely determination to confront her fate head-on. Her vocal battle against the disease in her PBS radio series, as well as in video tours of the USA catapulted her to international fame.
Yet for Thembi international acclaim wasn't enough. She wanted to confront the attitude towards AIDS in South Africa. She took the stigma attached to HIV head on and became one of the most important AIDS spokespersons in the country. "I thought, if I can do this for America why can't I do it for my own country?"
She forced many in the land of her birth to face up to the problem they were hiding from, even taking president Zuma to task over his ignorance about the disease. "He is very stupid and he is talking bullshit!"
However, despite her strength, Thembi could not escape the sadness AIDS had brought into her life. Her boyfriend Melikhaya, the love of her life, caught HIV from Thembi after they decided to have a child together. As Thembi entered the last year of her life, at the tender age of 24, her struggle with the disease started to take its toll. She insisted, "When you are HIV positive you do not live a normal life, but you must not see it as a curse but a challenge"
. Yet the gap between what Thembi was saying and what she was able to deal with was beginning to grow. She found it more and more difficult to live with her fate, increasingly suffering from depression. "Sometimes I am very scared when I feel sick, I know I am going to be better but it is something that is there, I can't run away from it"
Thembi wanted to be different: "I didn't want to just give up and die"
. AIDS denied her a long life, but she wouldn't let it stop her living. Her refusal to bow down to the disease and her mission to liberate her fellow South Africans from their frightened silence is one of the most poignant and powerful stories of our time.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Student Jury Award, One World International Human Rights Documentary Festival, 2011
3rd place Best International Documentary, Encounters International Documentary Film Festival, 2010
3.8/4 Audience Score, Durban International Film Festival, 2011
Official Selection, Amnesty International Film Festival, 2011
Official Selection, New York African Film Festival, 2011