For Pru, who's light refuses to be dimmed: Sisonke Msimang

Sisonke Msimang, an activist on issues of human rights and democracy in Southern Africa, sent this story to be read out at the Alliance’s 20th Anniversary Convention.

“Prudence and I became friends quickly. Soon after we met she had found a doctor prepared to put her on an experimental treatment. This was the 1990s and people who wanted to survive AIDS had to do all kinds of mad things.

“I had a car so we agreed she would move in with my family so she could be at the doctor’s office early every morning. In a house that was short on bedrooms, she slept in my bed every night.

“The two of us would stumble, sleepy eyed and grumpy, into the car and drive the long stretch from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Pru was scared and tired most mornings and we both had to go to work after battling the traffic back to Pretoria.

“I was scared too. There were days that the science went out of my head. What if, I got HIV? Sleeping next to her each night, breathing one another's air... My concerns were baseless, but they were spurred by the fearful silence in that doctor’s room. Each morning, everyone studiously avoided one another; their eyes were glued to the floor. No one looked up.

“Pru refused to live like that. As soon as we walked into that doctor’s practice, she would come alive. She would chat to me, make me laugh, tell stories, share gossip and generally be way too loud for the space. It took me some time to realise what she was doing, but the moment that I got it, I was as ashamed of myself as I was proud of her. She wasn't pretending: she was teaching. That moment I became an activist.

“And of course she was living. She was living out loud and refusing to be silenced by AIDS. She was showing everyone in that sad lonely office that AIDS wasn't killing her and it didn't have to kill them.
“She didn't wait for a stage to talk about stigma. She created a platform for conquering denial everywhere she went even when she must have been petrified herself.

“Almost all that I have done in the fight against AIDS - and it is not nearly enough - has been in service of the grit, chutzpah and love of women and men like Prudence.

“Everyone has a Pru, and it is in solidarity with our brilliant, mad, angry, confronting beautiful brothers and sisters living with HIV, that we continue to fight.

“Happy birthday Alliance, long may we all live to fight another day.”