The history of AIDS in South Africa : a Natal ecumenical experience in 1987-1990.
Joshua, Stephen Muoki.
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The interface between apartheid and Aids in the unique South African context between 1987 and 1990 is particularly striking. Natal was such a volatile ground, one rocked by political violence and threatened by a world epidemic. A literary study of the four years' Natal Witness Aids articles and an oral witness by four clergy living in Natal at the times reveal an intriguing debate and deeds by the people in Natal. The difficulty in ascertaining the actual spread of the disease in South Africa was imperative in the search for a reliable information system. Neither the random testing prior to 1987 nor the secret testing between 1987 and 1989 produced reliable Aids statistics. The launching of surveillance testing in 1990 not only amounted to a reliable information system but also revealed staggering statistics reports. Not only was the infection doubling every six months, but it was becoming predominantly heterosexual and exacerbated in the black race. A close study of the Natal Witness articles reveals that the Natal Aids debate could be chronologically divided into four characteristic periods. The 1987 debate was an international debate because the focus was on what was happening in North America and in Europe. The 1988 debate was an African debate because the focus on Aids for the first time placed the African continent on spotlight indicating signs of its future lead in infection and mortality. The 1989 debate was a South African debate because the articles featured miner's plague and the gay plague and their possible negative influence on the economy. The 1990 debate zoomed into the Natal province as it revealed attitudes, myths, and controversies that underpinned the Aids disease. The Natal Witness reports are both contrasted and complemented by the reflections of four Christian ministers who served in Natal at the time. The clergy used particular philosophical frameworks to reconstruct their experiences. According to Sol Jacobs, a 'black consciousness' Methodist priest, the churches did not engage in prevention because of their racial divisions. Vic Bredencamp witnessed a judgemental church, one that could not deal with the Aids disease because of its punitive theology. Ronald Nicolson, an Anglican priest, only witnessed an ignorant church, one that could not become involved in Aids prevention because of its paralysis ignorance. Lastly, Paul Decock, a Catholic priest, witnessed an active church, one that was actively involved in Aids activism as early as 1987. The ministers differed immensely on how the church responded to the Aids disease as well as in the reasons for that particular response. Both the articles and the interviews were found to be misleading in several instances. Through editing and selection, the articles left out important details and articles. The interviewees could barely establish a chronology in their memory of events. With the help of internal and external evidence however, both the interviews and the articles complement each other in establishing the Aids experiences of the Christians in Natal.