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In S. Africa, Stigma Magnifies Pain of AIDS

"They did this because they didn't understand," Nyathela said.

For Mlangeni, the rejection he encountered at his father's house grew so painful that he moved out. He and his father had never had an affectionate relationship, Mlangeni said, but he was comfortable in the large, lavish brick home they had shared for 22 years after his parents broke up.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela, center, attended the funeral of his eldest son last week with wife, Graca Machel, left, and grandson. Mandela announced publicly that his son had died of an AIDS-related illness. (Themba Hadebe -- AP)

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The HIV test changed that. His father virtually stopped speaking to him and locked the outer gate, saying he should no longer visit friends. After three weeks, Mlangeni moved into his mother's one-room shack, because she accepted his sickness unconditionally.

Yet even in new surroundings, Mlangeni was tormented with thoughts of death and regret.

"The minute you sit down, you keep on blaming yourself," he said. "You've got to focus on the plans you had before. . . . You must not lose hope.

Mlangeni is now living with his girlfriend and has found a useful role tending to the hospice building and garden. With the help of sympathetic relatives and religious faith, he has come to accept that he has HIV. When he gets sicker, he said, he hopes to begin taking antiretrovirals.

His relationship with his father, however, appears permanently fractured.

After church one day this month, Mlangeni stopped by his old house. His father, outside working in the yard, gave him a perfunctory greeting. Mlangeni went inside for a glass of water. When he came back out, his father had disappeared.

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