Apartheid’s Lingering Effects on HIV/AIDS (by Ben Gordon)

Oppression is a central theme throughout human history, and Apartheid represents a tiny sliver in the endless circle of human conflict. It never ceases to amaze me how rampant oppression is throughout all parts of the world, yet how it is also seemingly unexpected. All oppressors aim to redact the emotional, cognitive, and physical well being of the oppressed, because it renders them powerless and unable to enact change. As a member of the Zulu council, which focuses on the health and safety aspects of our course, I have become interested in the physical aspect of oppression. The Apartheid regime used forced removal techniques to displace blacks, coloreds, and other populations into segregated, high-density areas, which have caused the emergence of severe health issues. Such discrepancies in health have perpetuated the greatest crisis of them all: the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It can be argued that, even though it is abolished, Apartheid’s goal and objective of physically oppressing people (blacks, coloreds, etc.) is still coming to fruition.

Our course never ventured deeply into the heavy topic of HIV/AIDS, but our Zulu group interviewed a couple of street vendors and one registered nurse regarding the health crisis. Conversing with street vendors about this issue was daunting considering we were walking up to strangers and essentially saying, “Hey, can we talk about HIV/AIDS?” Nevertheless, we asked two street vendors many questions about the health crisis and they described the situation in their country as “an everyday struggle” and “a dreaded disease that impacts too many”. They were very open about this sensitive topic; probably because it is a problem they come across every day, and provided us with their opinions that the government is not doing enough to help those in need. The magnitude of social, financial, and health-related challenges and hurdles some, or most, of these street vendors have to overcome every day is mind-boggling, and I cannot help but sympathize with their situation. From what the street vendors were saying, the HIV/AIDS crisis has not gone away or simmered down since the abolishment of Apartheid.

At the Christiaan Barnard Hospital in downtown Cape Town, we interviewed a registered nurse who gave us a much deeper opinion on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As a government-paid healthcare worker, this nurse provided us with honest opinions about the role of the government and private organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He stated, “Personally, I don’t think the government is doing enough,” and elaborated that with rising rates every year something more must be done. However, he did not put the blame on the government completely, and indicated that people must pull their weight in getting educated about the disease and tested when the frequent opportunities present themselves. Specifically, he mentioned that certain communities know everything about the disease and others have never even heard of it. It was fascinating to hear a government worker admit the government is not doing enough to combat the disease.

The engineers of Apartheid created rifts in society that will take decades, and possibly centuries, to heal. Apartheid impacts millions of disenfranchised South Africans on both micro and macro levels. One of our class readings explored the physical removal aspect of Apartheid that “accelerated even larger movements of deeply impoverished people into urban areas” where many of them were “easy prey to the diseases of poverty like malnutrition and tuberculosis, to parasitic infections and to sexually transmitted diseases” (Marks, 2002). By physically removing blacks, coloreds, and other groups, Apartheid led to the development of overcrowded, underdeveloped, and unsanitary townships. On the micro level, these poor living conditions aggravate issues such as HIV/AIDS because quality education (which can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS) is harder to attain, there is an anti-government sentiment even when government agencies provide free diagnoses and treatment (as the government was once the perpetrator of Apartheid), and the frequency of diseases and sicknesses is higher due to sanitation issues. Access to quality and nutritious foods has been a more recent topic of research because the efficacy of ART (Antiretroviral Treatment) to manage HIV depends on the consumption of drugs on a full stomach. If taken on an empty stomach, ART drugs can cause extreme nausea and people start forgoing the treatment as a result (Jackson, 2016). Apartheid’s lingering impacts have a snowballing effect on many micro level issues.

On the macro level, Apartheid has created political issues that have negatively impacted the progression of HIV/AIDS policies and programs. After the abolishment of Apartheid, it was expected that “enlightened forces in civil society would work together with the new government to steer the rapid implementation of a well-formulated and rights-oriented National AIDS Plan,” however, due to political disagreements on how to proceed with managing the crisis, minimal progress has been achieved (Schneider & Stein, 2001). Although our class barely touched upon the politics of South Africa, and the politics of the HIV/AIDS crisis, it is clear that Apartheid still lingers around, as divisions created by the racist regime continue to prevent progress towards declining the rates of HIV contraction.

Our class discussions, presentations, and interviews have helped provide me with a deep understanding of the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa and beyond. The greatest lesson I took away from this class, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is that, despite our various races, creeds, and colors, we are truly all one. Whether evidence of our interconnectedness comes from spiritual origins or the scientific fact that all humans share 99.99% of the same DNA, it is impossible to deny that we are all one. To understand this is to understand the point of life; the suffering of one is the suffering of all. Yet, here we are on the only known inhabitable planet within light years of empty space, riddled with oppression, discrimination, and man-made divisions. This class has opened my eyes to the vastness and enormous reach of oppression and its dehumanizing effects on too many human beings. As a privileged person, I have an obligation to stand up for those who are oppressed and use my position to instigate change. Maybe in the distant future, oppressors and their systems will begin to die out, as more people begin to take a stand against them. After all, anything that is man-made can be broken or destroyed.


Works Cited

Jackson, L. (2016). Apartheid’s lingering effects on HIV and AIDS. Penn State University. Retrieved from: http://news.psu.edu/story/440531/2016/12/06/research/apartheid%E2%80%99s-lingering-effects-hiv-and-aids

Marks, S. (2002). An epidemic waiting to happen? The spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa in social and historical perspective. African Studies, 61(1), 13-26.

Schneider, H. & Stein, J. (2001). Implementing AIDS policy in post-apartheid South Africa. Social Science and Medicine, 52, 723-731. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00174-X

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