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Love in a viral age

The Western nations invest much effort and money in the battle against AIDS on the African continent, but these contributions often collide with cultural beliefs.

Anette Wickström lived in Nkolokotho in the rural district north of Durban, South Africa, a former homeland which was set aside for blacks during the apartheid era. Durban is representative of poor areas in South Africa where many are jobless and the death rate due to HIV/AIDS is high.

Anette Wickström interviewed residents on their viewpoints on love, sexuality, family life, traditions and marriage.

In contrast to the Swedish stance, where we speak of love as an emotion, the Zulu families regard love as an act, as doing. The effects of illness and unemployment must be understood against that background, because they make it difficult or even impossible to show our love through deeds.

The interviewees view themselves as being highly dependent on each other and believe that good and bad forces are locked in constant conflict. They are well aware of how the HIV virus is transmitted, but when they look for an existential explanation for why so many of their young people die they often speak of poison medicines.

Due to a lack of effective measures against AIDS Nkolokothos residents looked for alternative ways to protect their sons and daughters. They have created a ritual where an adult woman inspects the girls' virginity. The ritual is a voluntary association intended to exert collective pressure on the girls to postpone their sexual debut and on the males to respect the girls’ integrity.

Some members of the South African Gender Commission and the research community regard the virginity inspection as conservative and degrading for the girls. But Anette Wickström's thesis indicates that the inspections are not related to gender equality and emancipation, but rather a question of life or death.


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Last updated: 2009-06-03