By Tafi Mhaka
When I first heard the news that Magic Johnson had tested HIV-positive, I became dejected. I couldn’t believe Magic Johnson had contracted HIV and destroyed his life. This guy had it all: deft ball skills, money, screaming fans rallying behind him in every basketball match he played in, a beautiful wife and a loving family.
I just didn’t get it. Magic Johnson had the world at his feet. How on earth could he throw everything away simply for the thrill of causal, unprotected sex? And although he sounded upbeat and looked healthy on TV, I thought that was the beginning of a brisk end to life for Magic Johnson.
Everyone who had contracted HIV and developed AIDS never lived long. They all suffered and withered away into barely recognisable friends and family members in a year or two. No matter how many doctors and witchdoctors they visited for counselling and healing sessions, a year or two spent battling the diseases signalled a certain and seemingly painful death.
Uncle Romeo and Taurai
I suspected my Uncle Romeo had AIDS. He lived in denial and blamed his faltering health on evil spells cast by relatives and colleagues raging with jealousy and undisclosed vendettas. But watching him mellow into an emaciated and despairing shadow of his once confident and brash self evolved into a tough and emotional affair for me.
The pills he took made him weak and emitted a strong and repulsive smell around him. So I pretended he didn’t have AIDS and never asked anyone if he did. It felt better that way. I didn’t, in any small way, want to consciously experience a taste of what being afflicted by AIDS looked and felt like up close and personal on a daily basis.
My friends and I always talked about people who had contacted HIV/AIDS though. That was fine. We would speculate on who had AIDS. We would talk about how, when and where they had contracted HIV. That was fine. As long as we weren’t HIV-positive, that was fine.
We simply never got tested for HIV, and that, too, was perfectly fine. Perhaps we feared that discovering the essential medical truth would be way too difficult to bear physically and mentally. But, with time, many people, including Taurai, a close friend of mine, died from complications related to AIDS and this took a heavy toll on my health.
I never got over the profound shock and unfathomable fear that tore through my soul when I met Taurai a few months before he passed on. He looked severely ill and most unhappy; somewhat deflated and defeated by a formidable and ruthless foe.
Taurai never told me he was HIV positive and I never dared to ask a thing. But I did wonder if his wife and daughter were safe from the dreaded disease because my heart bled the last time I saw him. The usual camaraderie we often shared was muted by phony smiles and an unspoken sense of forced easiness between close childhood friends.
Yet I didn’t go to his funeral. I only found out about his death long after he had died. He had distanced himself from certain friends and maybe left all in the hands of time and an inescapable fate.
I went to so many funerals in and around Harare and felt an awkward sense of death encompassing me each time I bade somebody a silent and excruciating word of goodbye. And I prayed to God.
I prayed for the young and vulnerable orphans left to circumnavigate the treacherous hazards of a merciless and demanding world. I prayed for the husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends unknowingly infected with HIV by an unfortunate or selfish partner. I prayed for biblical redemptions a million times.
I prayed at home. I prayed in taxis. I prayed at church. I prayed in the dark. I prayed as I walked up and down Leopold Takawira Street in Harare on nondescript Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I prayed for righteous intervention in the best and worst of times. God had to understand how torturous and relentless this AIDS-inflicted pain and heartache was on all of us.
Despite my obvious and hurt-filled prayers asking God to help the sick time and again, nothing changed at all. God, I feared, couldn’t save anyone one of us from dying from AIDS should he want to. Our dear God, I began to suspect, didn’t exist at all.
Even the innocent children born HIV-positive and christened in church died from AIDS years before they could understand what a terminal disease is. They died young, confused and powerless, as all the devout prayers in the world couldn’t help them. Was this grotesque suffering, I cried out loud, God’s vision for humanity on earth?
Magaya’s Godly vision
So it interesting to read that Prophet Walter Magaya of the Prophetic of the Healing and Deliverance Ministries (PHD) received a vision from God that will purportedly help to cure AIDS. It is interesting because I have recurrent visions, too. I have distressing flashbacks of physically ravaged souls and wounded beings dying from AIDS related diseases – as a litany of long and tearful prayers fall on deaf ears.
I have disturbing hallucinations of poor and sickly mortals fleeced to deathly and sycophantic states of mind by elaborate conmen and self-trained psychologists selling unproven visions of powerless God.
I have raw visions of mounds of fresh soil covering mountains of smothered lives boxed in heaps of frustrated and quiet solitude at Granville Cemetery. If they had lived a decade longer and consumed the life-giving produce of modern medicine, many of these delightful and dearly departed souls would still be breathing fresh and fulfilling life.
So if I must choose between the powerful allure and potential of prayer and rambling, unseen visions from men of God and the physiological wonders scientific breakthroughs often facilitate, I will emulate Magic Johnson and forever choose science over immeasurable spiritual aspiration.
Approximately 27 years after Magic Johnson announced he had been diagnosed as HIV positive on November 7, 1991, the former NBA star is alive and tremendously healthy.