Princess Kasune Zulu Biography
Orphaned by AIDS, Tested Positive
Though Princess Kasune Zulu is not technically a member of Zambian royalty, she has emerged as one of Africa's most prominent activists in combating the scourge of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Both of Zulu's parents and two of her siblings were felled by the deadly pandemic, which has swept swiftly through sub-Saharan Africa since it was first discovered in the early 1980s, and she herself has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the predictor for AIDS. "I'm already infected and there's nothing I can do about that, but I know I can still do something," she said of her mission in an interview with Kevin Spurgaitis of the Catholic New Times. "I am the example and can say, 'I don't want you to become like me. I want you to live a full life. I don't want you to die prematurely.'"
Zulu was born in 1977 in Kabwe, a city in Zambia's Central Province, and given the first name "Princess." Her family was affluent and traced its roots to some royal lineage. Her father was a commanding officer with the Zambian railway police force. She was educated at a Roman Catholic school, and could recall the exact day in the late 1980s when her family's fortunes began to turn: when her infant sister quickly wasted away and then died. Then Zulu's mother began to lose weight and exhibit the skin rashes common to AIDS. "She called me into her bedroom in the middle of the night," Zulu recalled in an interview with Diane Taylor of London's Guardian newspaper , and told the teenaged Zulu, "'I'm dying. I want you to be strong and have good courage.'"
Orphaned by AIDS
Beginning in the mid-1980s, AIDS swept through Zambia with a terrifying ferocity. Transmitted by sexual intercourse, hypodermic needles, and tainted blood supplies, AIDS began to claim an unusually high number of victims in sub-Saharan Africa, the countries of the continent that are located south of the vast Sahara Desert. Many Africans blamed the disease on witchcraft. Preventative measures—such as HIV-testing and condom use—were slow to emerge. After Zulu's mother died, her father became ill, too. The task of caring for him and her siblings fell on her, and she was forced to quit school. The household also grew to include her cousins, whose parents had also died from the disease. She sometimes carried her father to a nearby village to find medical treatment, hoisting his skeletal frame across her back and making her way on foot. "Eventually, he felt he was being too great a burden so he left to walk to a relation's house to be cared for there," Zulu told Judith Woods of the Daily Telegraph, another British newspaper. "He died, alone, in the bush, and was found five days later. I didn't want to see the body in case it had been eaten by wild animals."
Despite her firsthand experiences, Zulu was one of many Africans who knew nothing of the mysterious disease. "I only realized that my parents died of AIDS much later on in my life when I started reading books and magazines and watching shows on TV about AIDS," she said in an interview with B. Denise Hawkins in the Christian Reader. With the family's savings lost to the disease and no way to support her siblings, Zulu married a man almost twenty-five years her senior when she was seventeen. She learned later that the two previous wives of her new husband, Moffat Zulu, had both died of AIDS.
Around the time that Zulu emerged as an AIDS activist, there were about 39 million people in the world that were either HIV-positive or infected with AIDS, and 1.2 million of them called Zambia home. International health officials, however, considered that number a conservative estimate. About two-thirds of all carriers lived in sub-Saharan Africa, and about 57 percent of those were women. In such destitute countries as Zambia, torn by decades of political strife and ruined by corrupt regimes, the annual per-capita income was just $395, making it one of the world's poorest nations. Women were especially powerless in such economies, with little access to decent jobs or even an education. The existing legal system sometimes forced them into servitude: inheritance laws in some places required a widow to marry into her husband's family, or she could be thrown out of her own house, with no property rights, if her husband died. Many women were forced into prostitution, and the cross-continent roads, on which trucks carry a majority of consumer goods and natural resources, became the best market for this activity. Truck drivers might have dozens of sexual partners on one route, and then return home to their wives. "It's hard for a woman to make her husband use a condom if he refuses," Zulu explained to Taylor in an interview for London's Observer. "And if her husband dies of AIDS and she suspects he has infected her, she may well keep quiet about it because she needs to remarry in order to survive."
In 1997, as the mother of two young daughters, Zulu decided to be tested for HIV. As a married woman, she needed her husband's permission to do so, and he initially refused. She was determined, however, and finally took the test. She was positive, and so was her husband; but their daughters, thankfully, were not. At this point she turned to activism, first by volunteering in hospitals where AIDS patients were dying. She also began dressing as a prostitute and trying to hitchhike rides on the long-distance routes of truckers. Once in their cab, she explained to them that though she appeared healthy, she was HIV-positive, and she urged them to use condoms to protect their wives and future children.
Zulu also became a spokesperson for Hope Initiative, which is an AIDS-prevention project run by World Vision, an international relief and development organization. She is the host of her own radio program in Zambia, "Positive Living." She has met with world leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush in April of 2003, to urge them to commit more funds and scientific resources to stopping the spread of AIDS. At the White House event, the president greeted Zulu by kissing her on both cheeks, which made headlines in Zambia and the rest of Africa. A month later, Bush signed the Global AIDS Bill, a five-year plan that provides $3 billion annually to fight AIDS/HIV.
Zulu has also participated in the 2005 "Women and AIDS U.S. Tour: Empower Women, Save Lives," sponsored by the United Nations. She takes antiretroviral drugs, which have been proven to halt the progress of the disease, and they are paid for by an American benefactor. Despite those drugs, one day her children may join the growing population of orphans of the disease in Africa. "I don't cry for myself, nor for my children, but the first time I left Africa and travelled to the United States I cried," she told Taylor in the interview for London's Guardian newspaper. "I couldn't believe that this other world existed, a world where people were always throwing food in the [trash] bin, where special outfits were designed for dogs, a world capable of doing something about the AIDS pandemic but which may decide not to."
Catholic New Times, December 19, 2004, p. 7.
Christian Reader, September-October 2003, p. 18.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 15, 2004, p. 26.
Ebony, July 2005, p. 26.
Guardian (London, England), January 15, 2004, p. 10.
Jet, March 28, 2005, p. 38.
Observer (London, England), July 11, 2004, p. 5.
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