Zackie Achmat, Writing Rights
Mark Hunter’s Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender and Rights in South Africa
provides the most rigorous analysis of the HIV epidemic that I have
read. Revolutionary in its approach, Hunter’s account of the HIV
epidemic interrogates the practices and impact of intimacy, sex and
marriage over time through political economy and anthropology. He shows
an inextricable link between the collapse of apartheid and the male-led
household in Mandeni industrial township and Hlabisa’s rural villages
in KwaZulu-Natal where adult HIV prevalence approached 40%.
For instance, Hunter suggests that the inability of
men to pay their bride-price and to become the head of a household fixes
their identities as an “umnqolo” (a “failed man”). When Bheka, a
young man tells Hunter: “We are umnqolo”, he means “an unmarried man who
lives with his family…” who may have children with one or multiple
partners but who cannot afford to pay “ilobolo bride-price”. The link
between culture and political economy then redefines intimacy and sex.
African youth unemployment (72% of young women and 58% young men aged
15-24); the rise of female migration; “one of the sharpest” declines in
marriage rates in the world; more than 50% households headed by women;
increased transactional sex are all bound in complexity, love and
intimacy. History is never absent from his account.
Hunter avoids economism through demonstrating the real emotions of
love and intimacy among women and men linked in a devastating HIV
epidemic. His study is a 21st century classic.