Ancestors and AntiretroviralsThe Bio-Politics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Ancestors and AntiretroviralsThe Bio-Politics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Claire Laurier Decoteau

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226064451

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book argues that HIV/AIDS policy has been a venue through which the South African government has attempted to balance the contradictory demands of postcolonial nation-building: forced to satisfy the demands of neoliberal global capital and meet the needs of its poorest populations. It suggests that one of the primary ways in which this ‘postcolonial paradox’ is managed is through the re-signification of the tropes of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ – both within the public sphere and in the discourses and ideologies of people living with HIV/AIDS. The book traces the politics of AIDS in South Africa from 1994 through 2010, analyzing: the political economy of the post-apartheid health system, the symbolic struggle between ‘AIDS denialists’ and treatment activists over the signification of HIV/AIDS, and the ways in which communities profoundly affected by the epidemic incorporate culturally hybrid subjectivities, informed by both indigenous and biomedical healing paradigms. As such, it draws connections between the macro and micro levels – insisting therefore, not only on the reciprocal nature of causality, but also on the often complex and contradictory relationship between global processes, national policies and local practices. This bio-political history is positioned within the squatter camp, considering HIV/AIDS politics from the perspective of those in whose name these battles are fought but who have been rendered voiceless in its telling. Drawing on extensive ethnographic research conducted in informal settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the book details what it is like to live with and die of AIDS in South Africa’s urban slums.