World Diabetes Day is commemorated on the 14th of November. We spoke to Thabo Batshe, who has Type-1 diabetes, to find out how he manages this chronic disease.

  • Who is Thabo Batshe? 

I am a literary activist who drives social cohesion in Kimberley by fighting illiteracy. I host monthly library pop-ups through Eyethu Pop-up Library – an organisation I co-founded – where many gather to discuss literature. 

“A literate South Africa is a better South Africa” is my motto. Bringing positive change to the lives of others is something I am deeply passionate about. I have also worked with and supported organisations like 100 Kids to Varsity (#100K2V) and Black Space.

In addition, I am a 2019 Activate! Change Driver, a 2020 Democracy Works Academy Fellow, and a 2022 TouchUp candidate. I hold a BA in Communication Science from the University of the Free State, and I am currently pursuing my Honours in Strategic Communication at the University of Johannesburg. 

  • When were you diagnosed with diabetes? What type was it, and what is the difference between the two diabetes types?

I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in October 2018. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which sees the body attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas; no one knows why this happens. It happens nje. So the bodies of Type 1 diabetics produce little to no insulin. 

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease and concerns itself with insulin resistance and/or sensitivity. The body still produces insulin, but depending on each case, it’s either not enough; it is not being absorbed well enough; or the body isn’t that sensitive to it. You might want to check Google for further information. 

  • How has your life changed since your diagnosis? What are the dietary and lifestyle changes you have had to introduce? 

It has changed everything – from my diet, energy levels, sleep patterns and even how I perceive life. My diet generally consists of a low carbohydrate diet, and I have only 50grams of carbohydrates per meal. I don’t eat pap or things high in carbohydrates. Back in 2018, I started exercising and did so till early 2019. After a while, I gave up.

  • Diabetes is one of the top 10 worldwide causes of death. How do you psychologically cope with living with diabetes and knowing this fact? 

It’s one of the top natural causes of death, but it is also very manageable with the correct diet, medication and equipment, such as  glucose monitors/pumps. So although it can be a ruthless killer, I console myself with the fact that it is manageable. 

  • There are a lot of common misconceptions around diabetes, both Type 1 & 2 – for example, that only the old and unhealthy can get it. What have been some of the stereotypes you have come across as a relatively healthy young man? 

Most of them stem from ignorance. People have asked how can I have diabetes when I’m so young, or so skinny. But old age and weight are only factors in the case of Type 2 Diabetes. 

  •  What support have you needed as a Type 1 diabetic person? What support do you think others need from their friends and family? 

I’ve mostly only needed understanding and also for people to be knowledgeable about diabetes. I don’t appreciate being told about medication that does not work. Only insulin works for Type 1 diabetics. Sometimes my emotions are out of control because of my glucose numbers, and in such instances, I need understanding and patience. I think others would also need emotional support,  especially considering a sickness is a lone thing. It makes one very lonely. 

  • What is your message to those who have diabetes and to those who have friends and family with  diabetes? 
  • It is not your fault. 
  • Check your glucose levels regularly. This is not always possible, but do it as often as possible.  Teach yourself more about how to make the illness manageable. 
  • To friends and family, diabetes is a very serious and unpredictable disease. In most instances, nothing but insulin and a good diet  works. No one brings diabetes on themselves and we’d all do everything to get rid of it.

Tell us: Do you have diabetes and if yes, how do you manage it? Does anyone in your family, or among your friends have diabetes? If yes, has the article helped you to understand the disease better?