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Strings AttachedAIDS and the Rise of Transnational Connections in Africa$
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Nadine Beckmann, Alessandro Gusman, and Catrine Shroff

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265680

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265680.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 01 July 2022

‘I Don’t Want to Hear’

‘I Don’t Want to Hear’

HIV, AIDS and the Power of Words in Bushbuckridge, South Africa1

(p.173) 9 ‘I Don’t Want to Hear’
Strings Attached

Isak Niehaus

British Academy

In recent years confessional technologies have become an important means of confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. These include ‘coming out’ with HIV positivity, and providing public testimony about sickness and the transformative effects of antiretroviral medication. In South Africa, the urban-based Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has effectively deployed speech as a means of overcoming pathos. Drawing upon ongoing fieldwork in Bushbuckridge, I point to various forms of resistance against the imported cosmopolitan practice of confession, and show how silence is frequently a more prominent response to the pandemic. Residents of Bushbuckridge have refrained from undergoing testing for HIV antibodies and hardly ever speak about their condition in public domains. I argue that silence was not merely a means of avoiding stigma, but also reflected a fear of hearing potentially dangerous and deadly words. In local knowledge, pronouncements that one is ‘HIV-positive’ could crystallise sickness, invoke negative emotions associated with pending death, and thereby worsen suffering.

Keywords:   Speech, words, power, stigma, HIV, AIDS, medicine, Northern Sotho, Shangaan, South Africa

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