At the age of 18, two years after being raped and soon after losing her mother to an Aids-related illness, Niqita Pieterse feared she was going to die when she was diagnosed HIV-positive.
On Tuesday this week, the Durban-based mother is celebrating her 28th birthday with her three HIV-negative children whose father is also free of the virus.
“I am grateful. I never thought I’d reach 28,” she told TimesLIVE.
Speaking about her diagnosis, Pieterse said: “It was not easy. At the time, the stigma was so high and my mom, who was also positive, had just died.
“When I found out, it was too much for me. At some point I thought I was going to die.”
While she was gathering the strength to inform family members about her status, Pieterse said the only relative who knew about her status called a meeting and disclosed her status without her consent.
She said she felt heartbroken, betrayed but relieved all at the same time.
“I am thankful they did that. It led to me being open about my status.”
Pieterse, who has been on antiretroviral treatment for a decade, said she is taking the medication because “I decided I would not be another statistic”.
Determined to spread a message of hope, she said she came across many social media posts from women who wanted to abort their babies because they fear the infants will contract the virus. She said she messages them to relay her story and educate them about the virus.
“It is not an easy topic for a lot of people,” she said.
Pieterse recalled how she was rejected by a boyfriend after disclosing her status.
However, in 2014, she met the love of her life at a club.
“We just clicked instantly.”
She said she disclosed her status a month later. She said he was disappointed, but eventually accepted her for who she is.
They are now the parents of three beautiful children, who are all HIV-negative.
Pieterse is followed by thousands of people on social media, and said her inbox is full of HIV-related messages and questions, but she would not have it any other way.
“I’ve had friends and family members distance themselves from me, but I am grateful for being able to share my story because people are diagnosed every day. Sometimes, they have no-one to talk to so I’m not doing this just for myself,” she said.
As of Monday, the country recorded 4,793 confirmed cases and 90 Covid-19-related deaths. One of those who died was an HIV-positive man.
Pieterse urged South Africans to get tested for HIV as people with underlying health conditions have proved to be most at risk of contracting the coronavirus.