The March 2010 Through Positive Eyes workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa’s populous economic center, brought the AIDS epidemic’s most pressing issues into sharp relief. The politics of heterosexual relationships emerged as a leading topic, with a focus on masculine power and the problematic dynamics associated with it. The tension between Western medicine and traditional medical practices was a recurring theme. Recent information about how to prevent mother-to-child transmission was also addressed in many of the participants’ stories.

South Africa’s AIDS Epidemic, as of 2010

Number of people living with HIV
6.1 million

HIV Prevalence

In 2010, there was no national data for HIV prevalence among female sex workers, men who have sex with men, or injecting drug users.

Adults (15–49 years)
18.9%

Treatment

Antiretroviral treatment available in the public health sector since 2003.

Numbers on treatment
1,393,000
% of those living with HIV who are receiving it
23%

Key Events

1994
South Africa’s Constitution is the first globally to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
1998
Treatment Action Campaign formed to fight for universal access to treatment.
2000
President Mbeki questions whether HIV leads to AIDS and a decade of denialism begins.
2006
Civil Union Act provides for same-sex marriage.
2009
The new Minister of Health pledges to accelerate treatment access.

Update 2019

By 2018, there were 7.7 million South Africans living with HIV and 62% of HIV-positive adults were on treatment.

National HIV prevalence among sex workers, MSM, and injecting drug users is estimated at 57.7%, 26.8%, and 17%
respectively. National plans to combat HIV among sex workers and LGBTQI communities were launched in 2016 and 2017, but stigma and discrimination are still barriers to treatment and prevention.

Annah

Annah

My baby’s name was Tshegofatso. The day we came back from the hospital, he was very big, a healthy baby. He grew nicely and was fat. He looked like his father. He was always laughing. When he became i …

Betty

Betty

I used to visit an HIV organization to get my medicines and counseling. One day the assistant asked me, “Are you working?” I was not. “Would you mind having a job here?” They were about to start a five-da …

Bhekisisa

Bhekisisa

When they told me that I was positive, I was not shocked at all. I knew my behavior had been bad. I had many girlfriends. I was a playboy. You can see how handsome I am. But I was destroying my life. …

Bongi

Bongi

I first realized I was gay when I was doing my grade ten at school. It was really difficult for me to accept this about myself. I tried to commit suicide. Then my mother and my stepfather took me to …

Chris

Chris

I joined the Zimbabwean Army in 1995 and served in the Congo, where there were a lot of things happening, like beer drinking. Sometimes there were ladies to entertain us. Some guys were not using …

Gladys

Gladys

At the clinic, my husband came in and was told that I was positive. He said, “Not my wife! Maybe there’s a mistake somewhere.” But when I tested again, it still came back positive. I did the test seven …

Gugu

Gugu

I am a victim of rape. After I was raped, they shot me and left me for dead. I lay in the hospital for three months in a coma. When I woke up, the doctor discovered I was pregnant and told me I had …

Kau

Kau

I’m going to be honest. At twenty-five, I knew how to prevent HIV. But coming from a remote rural village and being in Johannesburg where everything is new, everything is at your fingertips—it’s diffi …

Lindiwe

Lindiwe

I disclosed to my family after an uncle of mine died of AIDS. They believed he was bewitched. But I told them, “No, HIV is real. I’m living with HIV, and there’s nothing wrong with having it.” At first, …

Ludick

Ludick

I found out about my HIV status while I was in maximum security prison for committing murder. I saw that most of the inmates living with HIV in prison were dying there. So I thought, I’m going to die i …

Mgladzo

Mgladzo

Some people said I was possessed by demons because I’m a lesbian. So I decided to grow my hair and get a boyfriend. That’s when all these things started. I got the boyfriend and we slept together, and …

Mlungisi

Mlungisi

There was nothing wrong with me, just a small swollen lymph node at the back of my ear. The nurse asked if she could give me an HIV test. “Let’s do it,” I said. At that time there was no proper couns …

Nomsa

Nomsa

I disclosed to my family the same day I got my results. Now they refer their HIV-positive friends to me when they need information. “My cousin is also positive, and she’s living openly with her sta …

Nontyatambo

Nontyatambo

One day I had a dream. I saw myself disclosing in front of a stadium full of people. When I woke up in the morning, I told my mom that I had dreamed this, and she said, “We are going to support you a …

Phindile

Phindile

I kept my status a secret for four years. No one knew. A friend of mine used to ask, “Why are you involved in all these organizations dealing with AIDS?” One day I said, “Because I’ve got HIV,” jokingly, …

Pleasure

Pleasure

After the diagnosis, I went to my boss to explain. My coworkers started distancing themselves from me and, eventually, my employer asked me to leave. The news spread that I had AIDS and my friends …

Zandile

Zandile

My story begins when I met my baby’s father. We were longtime friends, we dated for a short time and, before I knew it, I was pregnant. It wasn’t planned. And then he left me for his ex-girlfriend. Whe …

Supporters

Through Positive Eyes in Johannesburg was organized in partnership with Positive Convention, with major funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and The Ford Foundation.