Memories of AIDS

HIV/AIDS is a bio-medical phenomenon with social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual dimensions, and has thus become part of South Africa's cultural heritage. Documenting the history of the epidemic as it unfolds under our eyes will help future generations to understand where they come from and in this way develop a sense of identity and strength in the face of massive adversity.

The history of AIDS can be recounted in many ways and from many vantage points. Oral history is eminently suitable for documenting the day-to-day, subjectively apprehended and culturally appropriated reality of the epidemic. . In 2008 the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) awarded a grant to Prof P. Denis, the Director of the Sinomlando, for a project called "Memories of AIDS" which aims at recording the experiences of NGO workers and pastoral agents involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Umgungundlovu District. Over a period of three years more than 40 interviews were conducted and transcribed by a group of postgraduate students. All will soon be accessible to researchers.

In 2011 the South Africa Netherlands Research programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD) awarded a grant to Prof Denis for the continuation and extension of the Memories of AIDS Project over a period of a further two years.A second group of postgraduate students, all Zulu-speaking, were trained. The research team includes two researchers from the African Studies Centre in Leiden, Dr Rijk van Dijk and Dr Jan-Bart Gewald, and four lecturers of the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, Prof Isabel Phiri, Prof Beverley Haddad, Ms BongiZengele and Mr RadikoboNtsimane.Several workshops were held to clarify the theoretical framework and the methodology of the project.Four key areas are investigated: power, sexuality, faith and stigma.

Between 2011 and 2013 sixty-five members of home-based care organisations, some of them in partnership with Sinomlando, of HIV/AIDS support groups and other community-based organisations were interviewed and eleven focus group sessions took place. These interviews were transcribed and, where applicable, translated from isiZulu to English. A two-day concluding workshop took place in November 2013 with the participation of our Dutch partners. All this material will be handed over to the Alan Paton Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal in the course of 2014. 


Philippe Denis, "The church's impact on HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation in South Africa", Journal of Theology for Southern Africa",Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, 134 (July 2009), pp. 66-81.

Ruth Prince with Philippe Denis and Rijk van Dijk, "Introduction to Special Issue: Engaging Christianity: Negotiating HIV/AIDS, Health, and Social Relations in East and Southern Africa", Africa Today, 56/1 (September 2009), pp. v-xviii. Philippe Denis, "HIV, AIDS and Religion in sub-Saharan Africa: An historical survey", in Beverley Haddad, ed., Religion and HIV and AIDS: Charting the Terrain (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2011, pp. 57-77.

--, “Is stigma receding? Stories of AIDS support group members in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa », Oral History Journal of South Africa, vol. 1 (2013), pp. 3-16.
--, “Les mutations du sentiment religieux au temps du sida”, in Gerald Hobbs and Annie Noblesse-Rocher (eds), Bible, histoire et société. Mélanges offerts à Bernard Roussel. Turnhout, Brepols, 2013, pp. 319-329
-- “HIV/AIDS and religion in sub-Saharan Africa: an emerging field of enquiry”, Archives de sciences sociales de religion, 164 (Oct.-Dec 2013), pp. 43-58.
--, “How HIV changes the faith. The religious experience of support group members in KwaZulu-Natal”, in Stuart Bate and Alison Murno (eds), Catholic Responses to AIDS in Southern Africa, Pretoria, SABC, 2014, pp. 282-291.