Thursday, 8 December 2011

“A failed man”: Mark Hunter’s Love in the Time of AIDS — a must read

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.

Zackie Achmat