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South African AIDS Advocate Who Created Radio Diaries Dies Of Drug-Resistant TB

South African AIDS activist Thembi Ngubane recently died of drug-resistant tuberculosis at the age of 24, the AP/Washington Post reports (Nullis, AP/Washington Post, 6/14). According to the Wall Street Journal, “millions of radio listeners around the world” heard Ngubane’s voice in “Thembi’s AIDS Diary,” which was broadcast in English in 2006 on National Public Radio in the U.S., and then in the U.K., Australia, Canada and South Africa (Miller, Wall Street Journal, 6/13). 

Joe Richman, who produced the diaries, said Ngubane’s TB was diagnosed too late to save her life. “Ngubane was 19 when she was given a tape recorder to make an audio diary about living with HIV in a country where nearly one-third of young women are infected with the virus. Few families have been left unscathed by the epidemic and yet the stigma remains so strong that many people are too scared to tell even their closest family and friends,” the AP/Washington Post writes (AP/Washington Post, 6/14).  

The diary was translated from English into Zulu and Ngubane’s first language – Xhosa. “She became a celebrity for defying the stigma the disease still carries in much of South African society,” according to the Wall Street Journal. According to statistics from the U.N. and the South African government, more than five million people in South Africa are HIV-positive, including almost 30 percent of pregnant mothers. “Ngubane put a human face on those demographics,” the Wall Street Journal writes (Wall Street Journal, 6/13). 

Ngubane, who carried her tape recorder for more than a year and recorded her first conversation with her mother about AIDS, said, “Our parents struggled against apartheid, they wanted to be free. And it is the same with HIV/AIDS. This is the new struggle.” Ngubane said that finding “the courage to speak out in South Africa is the most important thing I have done” (AP/Washington Post, 6/14).

BBC has an extract from one of Ngubane’s diary broadcasts and an audio interview with Richman (BBC, 6/12).

Richman’s reporting was supported by a 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellowship. KFF interviewed Richman about the project. The audio interview and transcript are available here. The original NPR story is available here.