Against negative interpretation
: HIV/AIDS narratives in post-apartheid South Africa

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores various narratives that have emerged in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in post-Apartheid South Africa. Building on the heightened interest in narrative and discourse as relating to health, power and society that has developed in the academy during recent decades, I bring these ideas together with schools of postcolonial thought to examine how the epidemic manifested as a social phenomenon in the post-apartheid context. In particular, I argue that both the macro-narrative of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the intertwined narrative of the post-Apartheid nation remain incomplete unless certain pervasive discursive tropes are brought to the forefront of our reading. In the introductory chapter, I identify and engage the ‘prior discourse’ (Mbembe 2001) of Eurocentric readings and epistemic starting points which postcolonial theorists argue that writing from the postcolony is continually required to refute. South Africa presently has the highest burden of HIV/AIDS in the world, an extremity which can be partly attributed to the social engineering and neglect that was entrenched during colonial and Apartheid rule of the country. However, it began only to be identified as a political priority after the transition to democracy in 1994. My research suggests that the epidemic has consequently been, in a number of ways, narratively employed to interpret or signify truths about the state of the new nation. The remainder of the chapters examines the intersections between HIV/AIDS, its treatment and South African narratives. Exploring this terrain through various themes such as silence and stigma; Thabo Mbeki and ‘AIDS denialism’; the post-apartheid state; alternative health knowledges and gender relations, I show that under conditions of epistemic injustice, different strategies of reading and knowledge production may be required to illuminate aspects of social reality that are too often concealed by dominant narratives.
Date of Award1 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBrian Hurwitz (Supervisor) & Max Saunders (Supervisor)

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