BLOCK 05905 

As I began looking for a second panel, I went in with the idea of finding someone that resonated with me a little more. Walking into the Names Project, it is easy to find yourself a bit overwhelmed by all of the blocks and panels, however, this sort of aided in my findings. I was interested in looking at the panel of a black person, as well as an activist. I came across block #05905. As I observed this specific block, there was something about the Thembi Ngubane panel that drew me in. Whether it be the bright color in contrast to the other dark panels, or the lovely name – I am glad I chose to research Ms. Ngubane.

Thembi Ngubane’s Panel 


Like the others, the panel sits on a 12 x 12 feet block and makes up 6 x 3 feet. At a first glance, one is drawn in by the radiant yellow backdrop of the panel. The  bright yellow sparks a mood of energy, and is surrounded by a black and white tie-dye like striped border. The border of this panel is unique as the pattern going around it is different on each side. The right side border has horizontal white lines spaces about 4-5 inches apart, while the left side border has horizontal diamond shaped dots lined up atop each other – with two to four going down each line. The top border of the panel is similar to that of the left side, yet each diamond shaped piece is placed differently. Lastly, the bottom border has vertical diamond shaped dots going in lines across the bottom of the panel.

panel border

south african flag (fine art america)

The first thing eyes are drawn to on this panel is the flag in the center. This flag composed of the colors black, yellow, green, white, red, and blue – representing the country of South Africa. Above the flag, across the top of the panel spells the name “Thembi Ngubane” in big lettering made of kente cloth. While the entire name is spelled with blue and orange cloth, the letter ‘B’ in Thembi is made of orange, blue, and red kente cloth. There is a vibrant silk red ribbon in the shape of the AIDS symbol to the right of the name ‘Thembi’.

panel aids symbol

On the left side of the South African flag sits a photograph and a date. The photograph is of Ms. Ngubane. She is dressed in a denim jacket with a black top underneath wearing big circular gold earrings. Ngubane appears to be speaking into a microphone. Beside this picture (in between the flag and the photograph) lies  the numbers ‘1985’ stitched with brown, orange, and blue kente cloth. To the right of the South African flag sits the date ‘2009’, placed  in the same kente fabric. Next to this date lies a photograph of the cover of Ngubane’s diary – titled “Thembi’s AIDS Diary”. Upon the cover is the picture of Ngubane standing outside of a building, with her hair slightly covered by a white cloth.

cowrie shells (Hemp Media)

At the very bottom of this panel lies the words ‘South African Woman Activist’. The letters are in all caps, spelled with the same kente fabric used to display the other wordings. As you look over the panel, their are white cowrie shells scattered upon the yellow background.

Ms. Thembi Ngubane

This panel stands out for its display of culture. The placement of the cowrie shells and the flag were the main drawings. Upon doing my research, I found that Thembi Ngubane was a South African woman who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS two years after contracting it, around the age of eighteen. Thembi went on to begin her activism in conducting an audio diary in which she uses a tape recorder to document her life with AIDS.

The Color Yellow

Cite: Patrick Dinneen Photography

Though the color yellow is the background of this panel, and while it does not take up a significant amount of space on the South African flag, it is meaningful. It stands for the minerals and other inherent wealth that is held in the land of South Africa. This points to one aspect of the various riches that South Africa has to hold – including both people and resources. The color yellow is brightest color that we can see, it represents youth, fun, joy, and is an energetic color. Thoughts in relation to this color come from the mind rather than the heart. The color yellow relates often to our ego, how we see ourselves and how others see us. This is significant in the way that, Ngubane was intent on staying strong throughout her journey with AIDS, and not letting the virus define her. Perhaps this played a role in the choosing of the panel background color. Rather than only for aesthetic values, this color was chosen as one to represent what Thembi Ngubane stood for.


The cowrie shells scattered upon this panel are typically worn as a means of jewelry and adornment. People often wear these beads in their hair and on pieces of clothing for statement. However, the cowrie shell is an African female symbol, meant to display the power of destiny and prosperity, also believed to increase fertility when worn around the hips.

cowrie waist (etsy images)

Ngubane had a healthy child, despite being infected with HIV/AIDS. These cowrie shells may have been meant to display the fierceness held by Ngubane in her battle with the virus – as she was destined to be a voice for others.


Kente is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of various interwoven cloth strips. It is native to the Ashanti tribe of Ghana. The kente cloth is centuries years old and was originally worn by royalty, but went on to adorn the people of the culture. (video) What is significant of this cloth, is the fact that each fabric color and pattern has a meaning. The type of cloth displayed in the lettering of this panel can say  a lot about Ms. Thembi Ngubane.

The lettering and numbering on this panel is made up of a blue and brown kente cloth. When examined closely, the cloth is seen to have a diamond pattern that shows up on some of the lettering.

sika fre moyga fabric

The letter ‘B’ stands out specifically on the panel as it is made of a fabric called “Sika Fre Moga”. This cloth is a symbol of family relations, responsibility, hard work, and sharing.  These words describe Thembi Ngubane almost entirely. Her relationship with her family is seen through her diary as she maintained healthy relationships despite her affliction with HIV/AIDS. Ngubane further displayed her work ethic as she carried out her duties as a mother and kept up with her treatments. Finally, Thembi shares her story as means to help others.


Blue is meant to remind of the big open spaces, such as the sea and the sky. In this, the color symbolizes humility, patience, and wisdom. “The king and noblemen have perfect control over their environment” (Afrolegends). This is meant to describe the way in which the kings of the time were able to remain in control of their environment, through the use of these traits. This is attributed to Ngubane in the way that she remained patient throughout her journey and did not let the virus overcome her. Humility is important as Ngubane stressed the importance of treating everyone the same.

The color brown, in this instance, is the color of mother earth and is associated with healing. The strength of of mother earth describes Ngubane throughout her process of healing – more so mentally than physically. She remained strong, as women are, and fought through her battle with the virus.

The diamond shape of the pattern was worn by royalty to show their dual, linked role as human and chief man and king. (Afrolegends)

South Africa and AIDS

The first official case of AIDS in South Africa was reported in 1982 after a South African man contracted the virus while in California, USA. The first deaths, however, occurred in 1985. (The year that Thembi Ngubane was born.) By this time, the disease was attributed to sex between homosexual men. But by July of 1991, the number of AIDS cases that had been contracted through heterosexual sex was equal to those contracted through homosexual sex. From that point on, heterosexual sex became the dominant means of the spread HIV/AIDS in South Africa. After Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, there was a plan for big HIV/AIDS prevention, however, the program had largely fallen short of expectations. In January 2000 the National Aids Council was formed which aimed to bring forth leadership and further reforms for children and families affected by AIDS, as well as a means for education promotion and community care.


Achmat speaking at a protest wearing the TAC’s trademark “HIV Positive” T-shirt

In the time that Thembi was alive, there were a few activists, including Nelson Mandela that were concerned with AIDS which helped to bring awareness. In 1998, HIV-positive activist Zachie Achmat launched the Treatment Action Campaign which aimed to protest to the governments’ refusal to distribute anti-viral drugs. He went on to advocate for gay rights and against other political wrongdoings.

Thembi Ngubane, now 20, in her township of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town.

By this time, Thembi was about thirteen years old, going on to commence her activism about five years later. The activism of others motivated Thembi to speak out, as there were no women her age acting and being their for those in need. Ngubane has expressed, in an interview, that she knows how it feels to hide as well as how difficult it gets to hide s the disease prgresses. Thembi Ngubane was focused on bringing people to understand that the virus is just an unwanted guest, the virus is not you.

In her activism, Thembi Ngubane conducted seminars for young people dealing with AIDS – giving words of encoragemnt. She went around to schools to aid the education of young people on HIV/AIDS.

Thembi Ngubane’s AIDS DIARY

Thembi AIDS Diary (pbs images)

Thembi Ngubane kept an audio diary for a little over a year (from October 2004- December 2005) documenting her life chronicles as she lived with AIDS. From the beginning to end of her diary, Thembi Ngubane made it known to all and sundry, that AIDS will never overcome her. “I am the one who has hands and feet and mind. And it’s only something that is inside my blood. So it will try to rule inside. But outside I’ll be the boss.” – Thembi Ngubane. She was firm in her stance that the AIDS was only a slight disturbance in her body, while she had control of everything else. Throughout the diary, Ngubane displays her relationship with her boyfriend (who was also infected) , as well as her close relationship with her mother. She also brings listeners to the emotional point in which she told her father that she was infected – though he expressed that he still loved her the same. Ngubane had a child, whom she loved very much, and though she was not concerned about dying – she just wanted her daughter to remember her.

This diary is something that is far from staged, showing the raw everyday life of a young woman living in South Africa. It helps to give better understanding of the disease and everyday life (of her culture) of someone infected. This diary can serve for as consolidation for young person, regardless of age or gender that is living with this virus that can use the strength and wisdom that was instilled in Ngubane.

Thembi later went on to have a sit down interview with NPR as she discusses life while keeping the diary as well as her further works.

Works Cited 

“A History of Official Government HIV/AIDS Policy in South Africa.” South African History Online, South African History Online, 14 Aug. 2017,

“Kente Cloth: An Ashanti Tradition Dating Centuries Back.” African Heritage, 21 Sept. 2013,   

Lloyd, Kodzo. “Kente Cloth Weave Patterns & Meaning.” KenteClothnet,

“On World AIDS Day, Remembering Thembi Ngubane.” Radio Diaries, RadioDiaries, 5 Dec. 2012,

Pao, Maureen. “Thembi Ngubane: Behind, Beyond the Audio Diary.” NPR, NPR, 19 Apr. 2006,

Quilt , NAMES. “Exploring the Quilt .” AIDS Quilt Touch, 

“South African Flag Colors Meaning, Significance and Symbolism – What Colours Make up the South African Flag – The Meaning of South African Flag and What Is the Symbolism of the Flag of South Africa.” South African Flag,

“Yellow Color Meaning – The Color Yellow.”, Jacob Olesen, 2 Mar. 2018, 

#Unit 3, #Panel2, #Ngubane