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Competing or co-existing? Representations of HIV/AIDS by white women teachers in post-apartheid South Africa

Lauren de Kock
Jane Wills


This study explores the social representations of HIV and AIDS that circulate among white women teachers in South Africa, a group whose personal risk of the disease is low but who have a major role to play in shaping attitudes to HIV/AIDS among children and young people. The study examines how white women talk about the origin and causes of the spread of HIV in South Africa and their personal and community risk. This was explored through 25 semi-structured interviews and two focus groups with white female teachers in Johannesburg. A thematic analysis of the in-depth interviews revealed a shared private understanding of the disease, wherein the women distanced themselves by anchoring it in the context of racist cultural stereotypes of black sexuality and vulnerability. In contrast, the focus group discussions revealed a type of public talk in which HIV/AIDS is anchored in the contemporary cultural images of the new South Africa and the spirit of ubuntu or togetherness. These contradictory views reflect the racial tensions and social contexts of South Africa and which shape HIV/AIDS discourses. The findings suggest that more needs to be done to create a genuine understanding of HIV and AIDS within contemporary South African contexts.

African Journal of AIDS Research 2007, 6(3): 229–237