Aids orphan takes on the world

From Health24.com – Click here for the entire article – Adapted from an article by Vida Li Sik, in Drum, March 2007

She’s just 23 yet she’s challenged Tony Blair, been on TV with Bob Geldof and bowled over one of the world’s most influential businessmen.

Meet Sibulele Sibaca, a dynamic young woman who refused to let hardship get her down and now has the world at her feet.

By age 17 she’d lost both parents to Aids and was bitter, rebellious and heading for a life of promiscuity. Yet Sibulele – or Sibu as everyone calls her – turned things around, thanks to her go-getter attitude and a brother who sacrificed a budding soccer career to help his sister.

Handpicked by Richard Branson
Today the inspirational young woman manages Virgin Active’s Corporate Social Investment Department in South Africa, having been handpicked by Virgin boss Richard Branson himself to join his initiative in Mzansi.

She promotes various charities dealing with HIV/Aids, malaria and TB, and travels the country holding workshops and meeting investors.

‘‘I’m very passionate about what I do,’’ she says. ‘‘Helping the less fortunate and making a difference in their lives means a lot to me.’’

Petite and attractive, Sibu lives in a stylish townhouse in Midrand, Gauteng, drives a gleaming black car with personalised number plates and looks every inch the savvy young exec.

Yet she’ll easily admit she had no idea who Richard Branson was, and at first turned down his job offer. He wasn’t put off – he just said the offer would always be open if she changed her mind.

Which, fortunately, she did.

A life turned upside down
Sibu was born and raised in Langa, Cape Town, where she and her older brother, Sonwabo, enjoyed a reasonably privileged childhood. Their mother taught at a school for children with special needs and their dad was a school inspector and pastor.

Sibu loved going to work with her mom and travelling around the Western Cape with her dad on his school visits. But at age 13 her life turned upside down when her mom died after a short illness.

‘‘My father tried hard to be mom and dad all in one and he did a great job,’’ she recalls. But gradually he too became ill, and passed away in 2000. It was a terrible shock.’’

Psychologist Vanessa Feldman says the loss of both parents at such a young age is extremely traumatic to any child. “It can create deep abandonment wounds,” she says.

Sibu didn’t know what had claimed her parents until she was riding in a taxi and heard women gossiping about her father. ‘‘They said he’d died of Aids,’’ she says softly. ‘‘I was devastated.’’

Sibu confronted her brother when she got home and demanded the truth. He told her their father had confessed the cause of their mother’s death and his own illness.

‘‘I was so angry,’’ she recalls. ‘‘I beat him with my fists, cried and asked him how he could lie to me.’’

Their once happy home life was shattered. To make matters worse, there was precious little money left as their father had cashed in his insurance policies to pay for antiretrovirals (ARVs).

‘‘I hated my dad’s guts,’’ says Sibu. ‘‘I held him responsible for what happened to our mother and I even hated our family name. I rebelled and did a lot of things I’m not proud of: hanging out with boys, being promiscuous.’’

Sibu’s rebellious behaviour as a teenager may have been her way of coping with pain, says Feldman: “Teenagers are very self-conscious and peer approval is critical at that age as they try and fit in with others their age. She was probably trying to find some sense of belonging and love.” Click here to read the entire inspiring article.


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