The author of the acclaimed book Three-Letter Plague, Johnny Steinberg, explores the scarcity of AIDS memoirs and creative writing on HIV in SA, in an article titled ‘An Eerie Silence’.
He traces the long resistance to an honest reflection on HIV/AIDS and the denial and shame that has curbed this dialogue.
Steinberg writes the “stifling political correctness in the mainstream media” has not stamped out harsh,collloquial references to the diease.
“The commentary about HIV that has saturated colloquial language on the South African street, too, is all about sexual excess and greed,” he writes, having raised the problems with how these themes have been linked to AIDS.
“References to three letters are implicitly understood to mean HIV. If it is said, for instance, that a man drives a BMW Z3, it means that he is HIV-positive and implies that he contracted the virus by living too fast.
“A person with HIV is also said to have won the lottery: If you play enough times, you will get it — a cruel and nasty commentary on the fate of those who have serial lovers.”
Steinberg celebrates Phaswane Mpe’s novel Welcome to Our Hillbrow for chiselling through the silence on AIDS with “great power and originality”.
Mpe broke new ground, writes Steinberg, referring to other novelists who have picked up his legacy.
“When this emerging literature is old enough to be named and canonized, I think it will be said that Mpe was the forerunner, the one who started to give voice to what had once been mute.
“And yet, Mpe’s story, too, is suffused with a difficult silence.
“Three years after his novel was published, Mpe died at age 34 of an illness that was never disclosed.”
On the snowy campus of Northwestern University in Chicago this week I’ve met students with enough enthusiasm and knowledge to set the world alight.
First I met a class of journalism students and tonight I met global health and social science students.
The South African media, HIV and public health were on the agenda. (And I got to try Chicago’s deep dish pizza.)
Many of these students will be working in South Africa this year – at newspapers, tv stations, universities and organisations committed to improving health delivery.
What’s clear is that they want to make a difference to people’s lives: they intend to share their skills and they have a commitment to learn from communities.
These students will also come equipped with formidable technological expertise, for example, some of them will be developing biomedical devices.
I’m sure they will give more to South Africa than they take away. (I’m not saying this because I’m a guest lecturer at Northwestern, it’s honestly what I think.)
Northwestern is is far from South Africa – a different hemisphere, different season – but their idealism reminded me that we are global citizens.
South Africans tend to be wary of foreigners given our history.
But, at this stage of our HIV/AIDS epidemic, I think we should open our doors to people who genuinely want to contribute.
One in 5 women and one in 8 men show the symptoms of depression the research, conducted among nearly 2000 youth aged 15 to 26 in the Eastern Cape, has found.
The researchers led by Ian Colman and Mzikazi Nduna, from the University of Alabama, warn that the symptoms of depression should be considered a “potential marker” of increased HIV risk.
The study found that the depressed women (21%) were:
* more likely to be in controlling relationships;
* to have a partner three years or more older; and
* to have survived sexual violence.
Depressed men were (13.6%):
* more likely to have had transactional sex;
* committed rape; and
* to have had three or more lifetime partners.
“HIV prevention needs to encompass promotion of adolescent mental health,” the authors conclude, in the current issue of the Journal of the International AIDS Society.
South Africans needing help can contact the SA Depression and Anxiety Group.
SADAG counsellors are available 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday on (011) 262-6396.
For a suicidal Emergency contact 0800 567 567.
The “socio-cultural” responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa, will come under the spotlight next month at the 5th SAHARA conference in Midrand.
SAHARA stands for the Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance and this conference will put topics that can be controversial, like male circumcision, on the agenda and make space for African voices to be heard.
Medical male circumcision has been scientifically proved to reduce the chance of men getting HIV by about 60%. But this does not mean it is universally accepted or popular. The SAHARA conference in Kenya in 2007 exposed the conflicting opinions on this.
The 2009 SAHARA conference will focus on human behaviour and the social forces that influence the epidemic. This contrasts to the HIV vaccine conference in Paris last week, which put biomedical elements of the virus under the microscope.
Themes at the conference from 30 November to 3 December are:
Track 1: HIV surveillance (Dominant and alternative approaches)
Track 2: Drivers of the epidemic (Including socio-cultural determinants)
Track 3: Prevention (Including facilitating and inhibiting social and cultural factors)
Track 4: Treatment, care and support
Track 5: Application of research evidence
South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, UNAIDS, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, SADC, UNESCO and AU institutions (including NEPAD) will play a major role in making the conference a success.