South Africans are eulogizing the life and activism of Prudence Mabele, the first Black in the country to publicly declare her HIV-positive status, after she died on July 10th in Rosebank hospital.
With Mabele, 46, succumbing to pneumonia, her funeral service was held Wednesday at Rhema Bible Church in Randburg.
The funeral was attended by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and a host of other dignitaries, including Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and country representatives of the United Nations, according to the BBC.
In his tribute to Mabele, Ramaphosa described her as a global icon who gave voice to the voiceless, “Prudence gave a voice to thousands whose stories and experiences, fears and dreams often went unheard. She brought comfort to those she knew were pained by physical discomfort, social stigma, and the violation of their fundamental human rights.”
Despite the overwhelming stigma and the certainty of being rejected by society, Mabele did what was unthinkable at the time: announcing to the public that she was HIV positive in 1992.
She was only 21 and had contracted the virus two years before as an 18-year-old.
“When you think about how she had to confront this pandemic in 1992, how she had to go through the time when, often times in South Africa, they didn’t acknowledge that HIV was the cause of the pandemic — yet she was that voice,” Deborah Birx, the U.S. Global Aids coordinator, said.
Mabele was determined to be brave and encouraged others to live without shame. Her decision to declare her status was the start of a lifetime work as a gender activist and campaigner for the rights of those living with the HIV virus.
She went on to become a founding member of organizations, such as the Positive Women’s Network and the Treatment Action Campaign, as well as non-profits that focused on breaking the silence surrounding the issues concerning HIV and AIDS.
Her notable achievements include getting the South African government to fund the procurement of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for the treatment of infected persons and then securing a court injunction ordering the government to make ARVs available for pregnant Mothers who are infected.
In a tribute to the late-activist, friend and close associate Phindile Mkhabela described her as “a force of nature.”
“Everything that we got from Prudence was how to love,” Mkhabela told SABC.
“Prudence was a force of nature; Prudence was joy and compassion; Prudence was acceptance; Prudence was release; Prudence was forgiveness; Prudence was respect; Prudence was generous; and that generosity cost her life. She didn’t know when to stop.
“May we honor her, may we celebrate her, and may we remember how to live, because that’s what she did.”