If Aids and witchcraft were humans and Facebook users, they could not be friends as many people think they are.
In rural areas where many Malawians believe that witchcraft exists, when one family member gets an Aids-related illness, some family members believe their relative has been bewitched. They point fingers at the suspected witches, hence dissolving the blood relationship which is always described as thicker than water.
That is why 51-year-old Masasula Wasili finds it necessary to join HIV and Aids conversations.
When his young brother succumbed to Aids in 2004, he was enraged by the death, thinking people had bewitched his hard-working brother.
Wasili, of Kwaliundi Village, Traditional Authority Mkula in Machinga, says his brother was ill for several years.
“Considering that he was a hard worker and quite successful, I concluded that he had been bewitched. I invited my relatives and we talked about the death being a result of witchcraft. We decided to seek revenge by burning the house of a suspected witch, an old woman,” he explains.
Later, they were fined a chicken each by their chief.
Despite the fine, Wasili said he regarded himself a hero who fought against a witch who had killed his innocent brother.
But in 2008, Wasili’s life and perception towards HIV and Aids and witchcraft took a new twist. His wife fell pregnant and tested HIV positive at Gawani Clinic in their village.
“I could not believe it. My wife asked me to go for the test as well and I also tested HIV positive. I maintained my belief that somebody had bewitched me to have the virus.
“My next action was to deal with whoever I suspected to have bewitched me. But my wife explained to me the only ways through which HIV is spread, reminding me that witchcraft was none of them,” says Wasili.
Wasili’s wife explained that one of the ways of contracting HIV is through use of unsterilised needles. He then remembered that he once worked as a tinsmith at Makanjira in Mangochi where he used to share needle to inject medicine whenever he got sick.
“At Makanjira, there was an ordinary person who was injecting us whenever we fell sick. He used one injection for many people without sterilising it. I believe that is how I contracted this HIV,” he says.
He said he has been faithful to his wife; hence, he does not believe he got it from sexual intercourse with other women.
“I love my wife and she loves me too and we use charms called zotcherana. These charms help us not to be interested in other sexual partners. In the case of my wife, if she tries to have sex with another man, they will stick together until a witchdoctor comes to separate them,” reveals Wasili.
He added: “Therefore, I do not suspect that my wife slept with another man. I am the one who infected her with HIV which I got from the unsterilised needle injection,” says Wasili, who has nine children with his wife.
Unlike many people who give up in life once they are told they are HIV positive, Wasili later accepted his status. He has been speaking about the dangers of HIV and Aids to his community and beyond. He also reminds people how they can avoid contracting the deadly virus.
Interestingly, Wasili does not forget to mention witchcraft in his campaign messages which have reached many corners of Machinga.
“I tell people that Aids is not a result of witchcraft as I and many people out there have been thinking for a long time. When I demolished the house of that old woman, many people believed, like me, that one becomes HIV positive because he or she has been bewitched. I have since gone back to the people to tell them that Aids is not caused by witchcraft. People are now changing their perception towards HIV and Aids,” he says.
Although the witchcraft message is bearing fruit in Kwaliundi Village, Wasili hopes he will overcome the fight against stigma that people living with HIV in his village face.
“In this village, life is tough for people who have tested HIV positive. As such, many people do not disclose their status to avoid this stigma. When there are items for villagers to receive such as food or fertiliser, we [HIV people] are not considered. But I will not give up until I win this battle. I want everyone to realise that being HIV positive is not a death sentence,” Wasili says.
He says he disclosed his HIV status because he wanted people to realise that Aids is real.