Unsung KwaZulu-Natal heroes and heroines in South Africa: Catholic AIDS care activities during the 1990s
Joshua, Stephen Muoki
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The story of the Catholic response to HIV and AIDS in South Africa comprises of much more than the condom controversy, the pastoral letters, the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) AIDS Office and the huge sums of money that funded numerous projects that were with that response during the 2000s. The AIDS context in South Africa was quite different during the 1990s, especially in the KwaZulu-Natal province which was clearly in the lead regarding infections and fatalities throughout the period. The volatile political context leading to the 1994 first democratic elections in the country had a devastating civil war effect on the province, dubbed “the township revolts”, which left 20 000 persons dead and many more internally displaced. Racial AIDS stigma, accompanied by widely popularised myths, made care attempts in the region a deadly affair. Financial donors were hard to come by. Yet, certain ordinary Catholic men and women braved the odds by moving into the margins of the society to provide care to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Their heroic deeds, adventures and narratives shed more light onto an otherwise overlooked period in the history of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. This article is based on an oral history study that consisted of some 22 in-depth interviews with clerics, AIDS care workers and project leaders in KwaZulu-Natal. An archival study on various Catholic archives, such as the SACBC Archives in Khanya House, Pretoria, the Archdiocese of Durban Archives, as well as the St. Joseph’s Theological Institute Archives in Pietermaritzburg was also conducted. This article is an attempt to use marginalised Catholic voices in the seven KwaZulu-Natal dioceses to analyse and re-tell the story of Catholic AIDS care in South Africa during the 1990s.