Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic

Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic

Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic

Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic

Synopsis

On April 27th, 1994, the people of South Africa voted in their first democratic election, bringing down the curtain on 46 years of Apartheid. But, at the very moment of transition, the seeds of a grave epidemic had already been sown. AIDS has indelibly marked the era since the Apartheid's end, exacting an enormous toll on South Africa's Black community. Since the epidemic's onset, more thean 1,000,000 men, women and children have died. Shattered Dreams? is an oral history of how physicians and nurses in South Africa struggled to ride the tiger of the world's most catastrophic AIDS epidemic. Based on interviews - not only from the great urban centres of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban - but from provincial centres and rural villages, this book captures the experience of health care workers as they confronted indifference from colleagues, opposition from superiors, unexpected resistance from the country's politicalleaders, and material scarcity that was both the legacy of Apartheid and a consequence of the global power of the international pharmaceutical industry. In 2003, after years of bitter debate and persistent agitation on the part of treatment activists, the national government committed itself to making anti-retroviral drugs available to those whose lives hung in the balance. Now that a halting rollout of drug treatment has begun, it is more crucial than ever to capture the experiences of those who, as caregivers, have been witness to the unfolding South African epidemic and who are now able to provide these new medications to a small but growingnumber of their patients.

Excerpt

On April 27, 1994, the people of South Africa voted in their first democratic, racially inclusive election, thus bringing down the final curtain on 46 years of apartheid rule. Decades of bitter struggle against a racist and oppressive regime had ended. The Soweto uprising of 1976—which sparked widespread protest by students against the government’s efforts to impose Afrikaans as the language of school instruction—rent, school, and bus boycotts; militant Black unionism and labor strikes and violence in the Black townships that brought some to the brink of anarchy had been striking manifestations of intensifying opposition. Each expression of protest drew from the government increasingly harsh repressive measures— the occupation of townships by the South African Defense Force, mass arrests, police violence, the torture and assassination of political opponents—as the regime sought unsuccessfully to regain the upper hand. The chaos and repression evoked intense international pressure for reform and disinvestment. Internally, the state suffered from economic stagnation, chronic inflation, and growing white disaffection.

In the end, the African National Congress (ANC), the largest anti-apartheid force, and its allies had emerged victorious. Its leader, Nelson Mandela, released from confinement in 1990 after 27 years of harsh imprisonment, assumed the role of president of a new South Africa. It was a moment of enormous hope. The world bore witness to an expression of democratic aspiration rivaled only by the transformations that shook Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the last decades of the twentieth century. But, at the very moment of transition, the seeds of a grave epidemic had already been sown. AIDS has indelibly marked the years since apartheid’s end, burdening South Africa’s Black community, which had so recently shed the political and social oppression of the old regime.

AIDS did not come as a surprise to the new government. By the late 1980s, epidemiologists, aware of AIDS in South Africa’s white gay population and of . . .

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