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Latest update: August 21, 2000

In South Africa

New file for following the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Date: Mon, 21 Aug 2000
From: "Sam Friedman"
To: ,
Subject: south africa

As I may have mentioned, I went to the AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. Some of my experiential take on this trip is presented in the poems at the end of this meesage.

First, however, I want to reflect briefly on what has happened in South Africa with HIV during and since the transition from apartheid. In this, I have been assisted by a book by Hein Marais, "To the Edge: AIDS Review 2000" (University of Pretoria press) that reviews some of what has happened. Much of the politics in what follows, however, is mine, not Marais's.

This is not a story about "Mbeki's folly", by the way. The problem is much deeper, with the basic politics of the ANC and what it means at a time of epidemiologic crisis.

HIV prevalence in South Africa (Marais p. 7; based on natal clinic data, I believe) increased as follows: 1990 0.76%; 1991 1.49%; 1992 2.69%; 1993 4.69%; 1994 7.57%; 1995 10.44% 1996 14.07%; 1997 16.01%; 1998 22.8%.

The transition occurred in 1994. By then, clearly things were disastrous, but quick action could have made a big difference. Instead, HIV got treated as a serious health problem, rather than an impending national disaster. That meant that standard bureaucratic procedural delaysdevastated planning and intervention efforts. Even more telling, politically, is that the ANC government has adopted neoliberal approaches and has thus been CUTTING health budgets.

The result has been a disaster. The concept of "the mutual ruin of the contending classes" springs to mind.

To be honest, we should not be surprised in some ways. Both the ANC and the SACP based their political approach to creating a transition around a commitment to the bourgeoise revolution (in the SACP case, this took the form of a "two stage" theory). This is what they seem to have delivered, and it is a disaster in the presence of HIV.

It is also worth noting that there is some evidence of an HIV outbreak in Indonesia now, following upon the upheavals in their society. Clearly, in this era of HIV/AIDS, theories of transition need to take account of the possibility of epidemic outbreaks being fed by the social turmoil, sexual dynamics, and migrations consequent upon upheaval; and we need to start thinking about how to prevent these.

Here is the poetry:

Royal Hotel, Durban

Inside, suited scientists seminar,
discuss, network, and decry
the spread of HIV across the globe
and the stalling of prevention against it,
and nightly journey to gorge fish or curries,
riding certified cabs through streets emptied by fear.
In the daytime, nearby streets teem with stalls
replete with spices, cloth, and carrying bags,
and with brothers and sisters, hands outstretched at ages from three to ten,
asking money, food, or a trinket to sell.

As I walk these markets, my mind repeats two litanies:
One out of three, and one out of two,
one out of three, and one out of two,
one out of three, and one out of two,
and scanning the faces of the traders,
I cannot tell, cannot descry,
which are the third housing the virus,
the third destined to die in five years or ten,
flesh flushed away, lungs gasping, life gone;
nor can I nor anyone foretell which of the kids,
among those of the outstretched hands
or of those helping parents in stalls,
will be in the half forecast for the virus
and which will be in the half who strive to survive,
perhaps even to have lives,
in a land of beauty transformed
to a nation of funerals,

Spectacle, June 9, 2000

Seated in the stadium of Durban
on a warm winter's night under Centaurus and the Southern Cross,
as young African lads boomed drums through the aisle beside me
and platitudes of Breaking the Silence filled screens and boomed microphones,
silence broken, but with content forsaken
as songs and dances cascaded
and Mbeki, Mandela's lame echo,
performed for the world,
taught poverty and health, uttered even "HIV" as well as AIDS,
but left silence unbroken, remained silent throughout about government
and taught not of condoms
nor uttered words of sex
before red 3-foot balloons and fireworks bursting
memorialized the dead, those lost to the virus,
the dead of yesterday and the dead of tomorrow,
tomorrow's deaths quite foreshadowed.
quite needless,
tomorrow's deaths
that needed not be.

There came a time

There came a time
when Africa lay reeling,
twisted and twirled
by debts
rotating in spiral,
unsettled and eaten
by a virus that preys on love,
that thrives on confusion,
on struggles left not yet completed
so rulers worship investment and trade
while forsaking the health
of the people who struggled,
an Africa of millions infected
by plagues of the virus,
and of millions afflicted
by a system of greed.