Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
When Bodies Remember

When Bodies Remember: Experiences and Politics of AIDS in South Africa

Didier Fassin
Amy Jacobs
Gabrielle Varro
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 390
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    When Bodies Remember
    Book Description:

    In this book, France's leading medical anthropologist takes on one of the most tragic stories of the global AIDS crisis—the failure of the ANC government to stem the tide of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Didier Fassin traces the deep roots of the AIDS crisis to apartheid and, before that, to the colonial period. One person in ten is infected with HIV in South Africa, and President Thabo Mbeki has initiated a global controversy by funding questionable medical research, casting doubt on the benefits of preventing mother-to-child transmission, and embracing dissidents who challenge the viral theory of AIDS. Fassin contextualizes Mbeki's position by sensitively exploring issues of race and genocide that surround this controversy. Basing his discussion on vivid ethnographical data collected in the townships of Johannesburg, he passionately demonstrates that the unprecedented epidemiological crisis in South Africa is a demographic catastrophe as well as a human tragedy, one that cannot be understood without reference to the social history of the country, in particular to institutionalized racial inequality as the fundamental principle of government during the past century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94045-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxiv)
    D. F.

    In the mid-1990s, as project coordinator for health issues in a major program of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France’s main research institution, I proposed that we develop projects with South Africa, which had just ended its half century of apartheid and was showing clear signs of becoming a hub of the new world politics. The director replied that studies of South Africa could make no claim to global applicability as the situation there was too singular. Actually, in those years no African country figured among the stated priorities of the Centre. Ten years later I was looking...

  4. ONE As If Nothing Ever Happened
    (pp. 1-29)

    “WE CANNOT AFFORD TO ALLOW the AIDS epidemic to ruin the realization of our dreams. Existing statistics indicate that we are still at the beginning of this epidemic in our country. Unattended, however, this will result in untold damage and suffering by the end of the century.” At the Maputo AIDS Conference in 1990, Chris Hani, the exiled charismatic leader of Umkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), thus shared his vision of a menaced future.¹ At the time AIDS data for South Africa seemed reassuring. Whereas between 10 and 20 percent of the adult population...

  5. TWO An Epidemic of Disputes
    (pp. 30-74)

    “A GREAT DEAL OF ATTENTION has been devoted, locally and internationally, to issues raised by South Africa over HIV and AIDS. To put the issues beyond doubt in the public mind, particularly so that the battle against this scourge may proceed with full vigour, the following statement is issued by the government. Neither the President nor his Cabinet colleagues have ever denied a link between HIV and AIDS.” On September 17, 2000, the Government Communications Service issued this astonishing statement in the form of an advertisement in theSunday Independentheadlined “Response to Enquiries and Comments on HIV/AIDS,” which all...

  6. THREE Anatomy of the Controversies
    (pp. 75-120)

    “AIDS TRAGEDY TURNS TO FARCE.” Thus the activist Timothy Trengrove-Jones reported on the latest episode in the South African AIDS chronicle in the September 15, 2000, issue of theWeekly Mail and Guardian. The object of Trengrove-Jones’s comment was Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang, a favorite target of editorials and cartoons. The star journalist John Robbie, famous for his bluntness, had managed to pin her down during his Radio 702 talk show on September 6. Robbie began by mentioning the book she was said to have distributed at a meeting of her provincial colleagues.Behold a Pale Horsewas the work of...

  7. FOUR The Imprint of the Past
    (pp. 121-172)

    “YOU MAY BE UNAWARE of the desperate attempt made by some scientists in the past to blame HIV/AIDS on Africans, even at the time when the United States was the epicentre of reported deaths. To me as an African, it is both interesting and disturbing that the signatories of the so-called Durban Declaration return to the thesis about the alleged original transmission of HIV from African animals to humans, given what science has said about AIDS during the last two decades. I accept that it may be that you do not understand the significance of this and the message it...

  8. FIVE The Embodiment of the World
    (pp. 173-227)

    ON MARCH 30, 2004, a meeting of the AIDS Consortium was held in Johannesburg at the headquarters of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions. This organization, which united most of the NGOs that have been combating AIDS in South Africa for more than twelve years, is dominated by the two heavyweights in the field, the National Association of People Living with AIDS and the Treatment Action Campaign. Members of both organizations whom I saw in the days preceding the meeting had warned me it would probably be stormy. It was. In an e-mail to his fellow members, TAC...

  9. SIX Living with Death
    (pp. 228-270)

    “SUCH A LONG TIME SINCE I last saw you. Next time you come I will be dead.” In the small living room of the house in Alexandra where she resides, the young AIDS sufferer whom I am visiting after having been away from South Africa for several months greets me with this terrible statement. I would like to be able to express the serene manner she has of being seriously ironic, to describe the sad smile that accompanies her welcome, to communicate the resigned sweetness of the comforting yet desperate words she has for her unexpected visitor. The consequences of...

  10. CONCLUSION: This World We Live In
    (pp. 271-280)

    ON APRIL 17, 2004, South Africa celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the end of apartheid. General elections were held that very day, and the ANC won a landslide victory that was also a personal triumph for its leader, Thabo Mbeki. His party took more of the vote than it had with Nelson Mandela directly after the fall of the hated regime. Few observers noted, though, that in the vast opinion poll conducted a few weeks before, 86 percent of Africans said they would vote for the ANC, 0 percent for the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, and the figures...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 281-320)
    (pp. 321-326)
  13. MAPS
    (pp. 327-328)
    (pp. 329-352)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 353-365)