By Andrew Quinn
JOHANNESBURG- Like soap opera divas around the world, Nandipha Matabane has had a tumultuous life of tragedy and triumph.
Nandipha, a character on the South African soap drama “Isidingo”, has been kidnapped, raped and lost h
er baby in a bomb blast. She was diagnosed with HIV before launching a glamorous new career as a television presenter.
Now, in a first for South Africa’s most popular soaps, Nandipha is coming down with full-blown AIDS — a step Isidingo’s producers hope will help break the stigma that surrounds the disease in a country where one out of nine people are HIV-positive.
“There is a sense in many ways AIDS has gone off the boil in its public profile and how seriously people take it,” said Greig Coetzee, head writer for the series.
“People either ignore it, or have a fatalistic approach. We want to show that people can live with AIDS and manage it, even if they are sick.”
Isidingo is among the highest-rated of South Africa’s home-grown soap operas, centred on a fictional gold mining town and tracing the complicated lives of both black and white characters as they deal with love, money and betrayal.
But while HIV/AIDS — which infects an estimated 5 million of South Africa’s 45 million people — has featured in more serious night-time television dramas, the epidemic has thus far had little impact in the frothy soap opera world.
Nandipha’s ordeal is about to change that.
“She will have ups and downs. We certainly are not going to see her story through rose-tinted glasses,” Coetzee said.
The Sowetan newspaper said the Isidingo plot twist would be a “reality check” for devoted fans of the show, which is broadcast on the SABC public broadcaster and has more than a million viewers each day.
“Nandipha’s progression from being HIV-positive to having full-blown AIDS will be a shocking but welcome change to the storyline,” the newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday.
“The once beautiful and youthful Nandipha will undergo a frightening change as her condition worsens.”
Media analysts said Isidingo could have big impact on AIDS awareness in South Africa, where activists accuse the government of playing down the epidemic and only a handful of public figures have acknowledged being infected with HIV. — Reuter