Aids: SA men reveal it all
BOOK REVIEW: Through the Voices of Men: South African Men Speak about HIV
THIS is another book that zeros in on the ravages of HIV-Aids, a disease that has wrought so much devastation in southern Africa in particular.
Indeed, in this age of global media, few are unaware of the HIV-Aids crisis facing South Africa. South African Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron has written the Foreword to Through the Voices of Men by Christopher Brooks, while the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has contributed an afterword.
Alas, in many ways the country has become "ground zero" for the virus on the African continent.
Public attention has focused on women and children impacted by the virus, since they represent the population most affected.
Recently, however, national campaigns and organisations in South Africa such as "Brothers for Life" have given attention to men's involvement in the crisis.
Unlike other books in the region, Through the Voices of Men: South African Men Speak about HIV seeks to deepen the national discussion by presenting the personal narratives of men whose lives have been affected by the virus. This book presents the unscripted stories of 20 men from different ethnic groups in the country.
The author, Brooks, has charted the life-changing effects of the virus on Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa, Afrikaner, Pedi, Venda, Tsonga, Shangaan, and coloured men. Additionally, the life-stories of several Muslim and Asian men are profiled It is clear from this work that each group within these cultural groups harbours a tradition of self-denial, shame, and stigma. This is understandable, but the horrifying ramifications of HIV-Aids are such that it merits being confronted head-on, as this book does.
Martin Vosloo, one of the contributors, shares some illuminating reminiscences with the readers. As regards HIV, he writes: "Back in 1990, we still didn't know much. The only thing that I knew about HIV was that it was something that killed you. [Even his doctor said when informing him of his status]: 'Martin, your life is over'. That was the doctor saying this!" But in his case, Vosloo ignored the virus in his body for seven years before taking ARVs.
As this work shows, many of the men indulged in self-denial until the reality of the virus could not be ignored. For example, Harry Nyathela came to realise his numerous sexual contacts exposed him to the virus.
"It was because of such reckless sexual encounters that I can't say when I was infected, or who infected me.
"The only time I realised that I might be in danger was when I read a book about HIV.
"Some of the behaviours that made it possible to contract the virus included unprotected sex with multiple partners.
It then clicked in my head that I might have a problem." It took a near-death experience before Nyathela entered care.
Brooks has included in Through the Voices of Men, questions at the end of each chapter to stimulate discussion among support groups, men and women dialogues, speak-out sessions, collective community gatherings, and for purposes of individual reflection. This adds even more depth and breath to the book.
This is a well-researched, breathtaking work that adds cubits to the existing published material on HIV-Aids. It is up-to-date and sobering.
The author, Brooks, is an author and professor of Anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.