Scottish singer Annie Lennox talks about discovering the scope of AIDS during a visit to Cape Town in a cover story for AIDS glossy HIV Plus.

The 56-year-old Lennox has gone from recording artist to full-time AIDS activist, launching her SING Campaign to raise awareness and funds to combat the pandemic in 2007.

In 2000, she visited Cape Town, South Africa, where she says she witnessed firsthand the enormity of the problem.

“I knew enough about HIV/AIDS to think that I knew all I needed to know, but I hadn’t understood it. [Visiting Cape Town was] like a baptism for me. We were taken into a township where an AIDS hospital had been set up three years before. It hadn’t been there for very long, and we were told that when the hospital arrived in the local township that people themselves were so terrified of it and threatened by its existence, they had somehow felt this was going to bring the virus to them directly. People had been stoned and attacked. At this time, in 2000, people were really in danger of attack if they disclosed their status, and they were keeping very quiet about it. Nobody would dare to come out and say they were HIV-positive; you can imagine something like an HIV/AIDS hospital that was actually supposed to serve the citizens, most of whom were terribly affected by HIV—even then it was something challenging. But then the staff told me that three years down the line, the people had started to understand and recognize what the hospital was doing, and of course things have changed and people were no longer being attacked. We went in there and saw it all, from young men lying like skeletons to young babies who were half the size they should have been because they were very ill.”
“On another visit I went to a graveyard, and there were just so many graves that had been already been dug—holes in the ground, basically—waiting for children to be buried. When you see this kind of thing it’s unbelievable. Driving around, you’d see the striped marquee tents that look at first like a festival or garden party—but those are actually funeral tents set up to commemorate someone’s death. It’s in things like that, it’s in the details that you start to realize what [AIDS] really looks like. Or you go to a hospital to see queues of people just lining up to see a doctor, and the doctors and nurses are just completely overwhelmed, flooded with people coming in. You’ve never seen anything like this in a Western country.”