There has been little research done in South Africa that investigates how families nested within communities can be strengthened to support the prevention of HIV infection in youth. A focused ethnographic case-study approach was employed to better understand how families in a semi-rural area outside Durban, South Africa, could support youth to make healthy life choices, particularly with respect to HIV risk behaviour. This involved a volunteer convenience sample of parents or caregivers and key community members. A psychodynamic extension of social representational theory was applied to an interpretation of the data. The findings suggest that caregivers of youth feel disempowered and unsupported in a context of fractured and un-containing leadership structures, which works against social cohesion. In the context of social change and relatively new and threatening phenomena such as HIV/AIDS, we argue that strong unified leadership structures are necessary to assist with anchoring the unfamiliar and rendering it manageable, as well as to form the building blocks of social cohesion, a protective social environmental factor for youth. In addition, we suggest that programmes aimed at empowering parents or caregivers with knowledge about HIV/AIDS as well as renegotiating parental practices to promote greater parental authority, would be important interventions at a family level.
Keywords: community; ethnography; intervention; social representation; youth
African Journal of AIDS Research 2005, 4(1): 57–63