Rumor, gossip and blame: Implications for HIV/AIDS prevention in the South African lowveld

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The HIV/AIDS epidemic provides fertile breeding ground for theories of the origin of HIV/AIDS, its mode of transmission, and the allocation of blame. Drawing on ethnographic research in the Bushbuckridge region of the South African lowveld, this article examines the articulation of AIDS through gossip and rumor. These oral forms create moral readings of behavior and shape folk discourses of AIDS that resist dominant epidemiological explanations. Significantly, constructions of AIDS are not uniform. Although elders claim AIDS as traditional and curable, younger men and women support theories of AIDS as a modern, foreign disease. Witchcraft beliefs are popular in explaining why certain people die and not others. At times, rumor may escalate into a moral panic. The implications of these findings for social responses to the AIDS epidemic and HIV/AIDS prevention are explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-368
Number of pages12
JournalAIDS Education and Prevention
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health (social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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