Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Today, Our Tears Flow


In my Sunday post, A 29th Story of AIDS, I wrote about a young man, Tony Shelembe, who was the last person still working for the nearly defunct uMngeni AIDS Centre (uMAC)*. His particular mission was to counsel children bereaved by AIDS, but he also assisted sick people by driving them to clinics and acquiring the documentation they needed in order to get ARVs. He was a gentle, humble man whose first thought was always of the children. Tony died last night of TB of the liver.

Tony was on ARVs, but his TB was not diagnosed until last week, when it was too late. In a visit to hospital two weeks ago, his stomach was drained of liquid but no-one ran the tests to check for TB. Had they done so, there might have been time to get him on the right medication and save his life. My mother’s neighbour, who nursed Tony alongside his fiancé, Pretty, said no painkillers were able to alleviate his pain. Towards the end, they managed to get a prescription for morphine, which helped him. He had a two-hour sleep, and died shortly after waking up.

Tony Shelembe’s death was tragic, and unnecessary. He, of all people, was doing everything in his power to combat AIDS and its terrible ramifications for individuals and society. Today, we mourn a true South African hero.

We cry for Tony’s family, Pretty and their 10-year-old daughter.
We cry for the uMngeni AIDS Centre.
We cry for Sambeka, so recently a recipient of Tony’s warmth and help.
We cry for all the other people living with AIDS who relied on Tony.
We cry for all the people who will now say, “Look at Tony. ARVs didn’t save him. Why should I bother?”
We cry for the children whose parents have died who no longer have Tony’s visits to look forward to.
We cry for hospitals that don’t test people for TB because they look like just another walking skeleton.
We cry for a government that doesn’t appear to care.
We cry for a health minister who says eat beetroot and garlic.
We cry for all the people who turn their backs on this terrible crisis as a means to protect themselves when they could just help one person.

To those South Africans, I say please open your hearts. Please just help one person.

* Special thanks to all those who have offered to donate money to help Sambeka and the uMAC. If anyone else would like to make a donation, I can send you the email address of Dan le Cordeur, a Catholic priest who works with people with AIDS and volunteers for uMAC.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

16 thoughts on “Today, Our Tears Flow

  1. Your post highlights the human cost of such neglect, which is high indeed.

  2. What a waste of a life, poor Tony. I am so sad for him and all those in SA who are caught in this horror.
    I have emailed Dan le Cordeur.

  3. Living in South Africa, we’re all very, very aware of this dreadful plight which we live within. How could we be human and not? It’s rare to find one person who does nothing to help.
    There are a lot of awake and committed people who have chosen to live here and make a difference.

  4. I agree with rachael, there are a lot of committed people and I know the task seems insurmountable but you can still help. If you make a difference to one life it is still a difference. Imagine that it was your family a stranger was helping, in the midst of a sea of needy families. You wouldn’t want someone to walk by just because they couldn’t help everybody. Help isn’t always money, sometimes it can just be a blog link to this post so the word gets around. Thank you for this post Charlotte, and for everyone who still sees hope in Africa, despite overwhelming hopelessness.

  5. How terribly, terribly sad that such a wonderful man, who had so much to give had to die so unnecessarily and so painfully.

  6. I only recently started reading your site — via Stuntmother — but even still this news about Tony was a shock. So, so sad, for his family and all the lives he touched.

  7. I got a reply from Dan by e-mail this morning – in which he mentioned that Tony had died.
    What a tragic loss for so many people.

  8. Bindi, a very high cost, to Tony and to his family.

    Herschelian, thanks for the action you’ve taken. I’m sure Dan and everyone at uMAC are thrilled.

    Rachel, I know there are lots of wonderful committed people and I know there are lots of people who turn their backs because it is too hard to even start caring. I just want some of those people to see that it is humans who are suffering and dying, not statistics, and to start cracking open their hearts.

    Hi Ms Vanielje. I do see hope in Africa, and I agree that there are all number of ways to help, one of which is to keep a conversation going.

    Thanks Gill. It is too, too sad.

    Hi Ellen. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Hi Teuchter. I’m very pleased that you are in contact with Dan. Thank you so much for your help.

  9. Charlotte,

    I read your post this morning, but I just couldn’t comment. It’s always so sad when someone is taken too soon. What wonderful things Tony accomplished while in this world. He did more than many do in a long lived life. I guess what really counts is what you do with the time you spend here. I’m so sorry for the untimely death of your friend, but how fortunate his life for all who knew him.

  10. After reading this story on Wednesday, I tried to call Toni but his phone was on viocemail. I then posted a message here in an attempt for Toni or Dan to contact me. The same afternood I had to travel to Bloemfontein. In my hotel room, I tried Toni again and still with no success. I was worried since I read the story.

    The at about 1h00 am the beep from my cell woke me up. There was am sms from Daniela Genrich (the founder of Umngeni Aids Centre). It read:”Tony passed away just before midnight. He was in terrible pain the whole day but died peacefully without pain beacuse Dan had managed to organise morphine by evening. God is very near.Pls pray for the family and Pretty they are so devastated. Daniela” Got a shock but then consled myself that this was just a dream because I was thinking of him that day. In the morning I checked my phone and the sms was still there, so It was not a dream, Toni is no more!

    I worked with him and remember his dedication to the cause of people living with HIV/AIDS. His respect for the young and the old, his smile, his tiny body, his funny caps and his good heart.May his sould rest in peace

  11. This post and your last one touched me deeply. It’s so easy for us in the first world to forget that AIDS is a terrible scourge of our time for many millions of people around the world.

  12. Hi Alida. Thanks for your kind words. We are going to see what we can do to help Tony’s family.

    Hi Sbusiso, you must be feeling devastated. I just hope that uMAC can find some ongoing financial support so that they can carry on the wonderful work that Tony was doing.

    Ms Penguin, scourge is the word. It’s eating away at family and social structures in a way that makes me fear for the future.

  13. Oh how sad. TB and HIV realyl do form an unholy alliance in South Africa, don’t they. The one disguises and enables the other so well, and this sort of tragedy is the result. Thank you for raising awareness of the work that Tony did and the UMAC continues to do. Please send me Dan’s details.

  14. I was privileged to be with Tony as he breathed his last, with his mother, sister and fiancee beside him. I was also privileged to witness how Pretty, the woman whose bride price he had just finished paying and whom he was to marry ealry next year, loved him on his way. She emptied herself to try to ease his pain, she held him, rubbed him, washed, and talked soothingly to him, 24 hours a day for the last week of his life. She, too, is an unsung hero. She spends her days as a comunity health worker doing nursing the dying at home, encouraging the living to face their fears and make HIV manageable…
    But this was so fitting a way for him to go. He was an exceptional man – How many men spend their lives helping children work through their grief, accompanying the sick whenever he could, motivating people to overcome stigma in their lives, and especially the self-stigma that prevents them from going for testing for fear of becoming an outcast…

    And yet, it needs to be said that the Health System in South Africa did not see him this way. He was yet another sick person with hollow eyes, who needed to be gotten rid of as soon as possible – the system can’t cope. He went to hospital with fluid in the abdomen over a month ago. The fluid was drained, and he was sent home. No further investigation, no treatment offered. This was only done a week ago when he returned, half the weight he was before. If he had started on TB treatment then, he may well be on the road to full recovery now… This is an outrage!! Why are we not more outraged?
    The reason why UMAC is at threat of closure, is because the Department of Health is happy to have organisations like UMAC do its work, but will not support them, or they make it so difficult to get support through the endless red tape and delays….

    I have been considering writing a letter to the KwaZulu Natal Dept of Health – but who will take it seriously? People who criticise the government are branded ‘unpatriotic’ or worse still, aligned with the white liberal opposition party. It is much easier to write-off criticism than listen to it…

    Who will join our voices with me and Dan and Sbu, so that together we may eventually break through the hardness of heart that comes from seeing too much death??? Pls let me know if you have any ideas for how we might take this forward.

    Lastly – I want to ask a small favour. To honour Tony’s life, I want to put together a story about Tony and submit it to a newspaper writing competition for the 16 Days Campaign, on the theme: “Men Making a Difference”. Can I have your permission to use snippets of what you have written here as part of the story? Today I am also to sit with Luyanda, his daughter, as well as Pretty and his mum and his dad, to hear their stories about this remarkable man – their father, life partner, and son. I will post this story on this blog when it is done.
    We need role models like Tony to be celebrated this 16 Days. Last year, the media had such a field day demonising men through bombarding the public with stories of violence against women and children, that in the end, the stats of incidences of gender based violence increased substantially during the same period!! This year, we want to celebrate those many men who are quietly going about the business of building a more peaceful world. Pls let me know if I can use excerpts from your contributions to this conversation.

    Daniela is Director of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

  15. Pingback: World AIDS Day « Charlotte’s Web

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