October 7, 2011
Rumor, Gossip and Blame: Implications for HIV/AIDS prevention in the
South African Lowveld
article examines the articulation of AIDS through gossip and rumor.
A Crisis of Meaning
There is much confusion about AIDS – questions of who to blame, why it affects some
people and not others.
Article: explores people’s response to AIDS by interrogating cultural and social
production in a contemporary South African society.
Rumor: implies a lack of certainty in the truth of the story.
o Popular, public account that circulates widely, but has not been proven true.
o Rich in detail, characters remain mysterious and location murky.
o People’s behaviour is observed and moral judgments made.
o Gossip is a gendered conversational form. (men try not to)
Methods: conversations, interviews about AIDS, recording of conversations, group
Gossip and rumor not simply conventional storytelling – they evaluate reputations and
Gossip about AIDS not only describe, but is prescriptive – creates moral readings of
behaviour, linking AIDS to discourses of tradition, gender and generational relationships.
Rumours of AIDS has power to construct moral panic.
The threat of AIDS is real, rumours about AIDS construct it as a social danger that is out
of proportion to the actual threat offered. (over exaggerated)
The Research Context
Present study: KwaBombha (village in Bushbuckridge district of rural Limpopo Province –
home to 30,000 Shangaan speakers)
Witchcraft accusations between neighbours increased. Targeted elderly men who were
believed to be jealous of the new educational and employment opportunities of the
1990s: infrastructural developments – low cost housing, tarred roads, shopping
o Narratives of moral decline: low cost housing developments are notorious as
lodgings for mistresses and are seen to be areas where AIDS epidemic thrives.
Geographical locations of settlements are important risk factor to epidemiology of AIDS
– especially truck stops and major highways.
o Roads = locales for transactional sex AIDS. Young girls warned about lingering
on roads, AIDS seen to attack those who “play in the street”.
Arrival of AIDS was preceded by radical socioeconomic change that transformed
relationships between men and women, and young and old, creating conditions for the
spread of AIDS.
AIDS Awareness in KwaBombha
present since 1990s, little knowledge on it.
October 7, 2011
First encounter was through media – AIDS awareness campaigns had limited effect – too
Many South Africans rejected these initial attempts due to suspicions that they were
part of a conspiracy to stem black population groups. Not thought as real threat.
o AIDS characterized as gay plague, innocent victims, guilty sinners and malicious
o AIDS = elaborate joke cooked up by television.
Mid 1990s, strategy: school based education. Teachers complained of difficulty in
understanding training manuals and lack of support – openly rejected idea of providing
sex and AIDS education.
o Teachers themselves are often implicated in sex scandals with schoolchildren
and seen as carriers of HIV.
Condom campaign – died out shortly due to lack of funding
Non governmental organizations to create awareness, Worlds AIDS day (15km away)
loveLife youth centre (25km away) – provides AIDS awareness and positive lifestyle
recreational and educational activities for local youth.
o thought as a place for “training prostitutes” and engaging sexual promiscuity.
o Few able to go – far, no $.
o Seen as elitist and exclusionist – very modern, consumerist, seems out of place
o Many accessed services through telephone and received informat