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Do myths about African sexuality hurt the fight against Aids?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Q: How many sizes do penises come in?

A: Five — “small”, “medium”, “large”, “extra-large”, and “does that come in white?”

That is a very funny joke, yes

African men have been the subject of European myth-making since the very earliest days of contact between the two continents. One of the hardiest and most enduring myths is that African sexuality is somehow different to its European counterpart. Such comparisons are not altogether unflattering to African men, tinged as they are with a certain fascination and awe. One can’t entirely blame African men for becoming complicit in this myth-making. Who wouldn’t want to be known as bigger, better, more potent, more virile, and more active than everyone else?

It's true - a six-pack is the least of my assets

When I was researching my MA dissertation on colonial women writers in the Eastern Cape, I was struck by the combination of fascination and repulsion these women demonstrated toward Xhosa men. They were continually awed by their impressive physiques and by the size of their … spears. And no, that’s not me being facetious. The literature is full of references to long Xhosa spears dangling perilously closely to the skirts of prim Victorian ladies. If the sexual innuendo were any more obvious, it would be dancing the samba in a G-string and pasties.

She was just fine until those Xhosa warriors walked past

But that was then and this is now. Surely white people are over this obsession by now?

Apparently not. The fascination with African sexuality is undimmed, and goes hand in hand with a strong desire to police it. Thus when public figures such as Steve Hofmeyr and Naas Botha are shown to have had unprotected affairs they become national icons. But when Jacob Zuma and Fikile Mbalula do the same, the media trot out phrases like “irresponsible in our current climate” and “setting a bad example”. Black men are seen as carriers of disease in a way that their white counterparts simply are not.

The last few weeks have seen a resurgence of public utterances supporting the contention that African sexual behaviour is driving the HIV/Aids pandemic in Africa. We’ve had Helen Zille’s now infamous “why should we pay for irresponsible sexual behaviours?” tweets, and more recently Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi declaring that “HIV/Aids is a gender-based disease that is spread by men, but suffered by women”.

Motsoaledi’s statement has been publically celebrated by black and white women alike, and he has been lauded for “finally speaking the truth”.

Fortunately, before the demonisation of African men could run entirely out of control, a corrective was administered by Francois Venter on Politicsweb. Venter argues with admirable calm the sheer improbability of the notion that African male sexual behaviour is single-handedly responsible for the fact that HIV infection rates in Africa are wildly higher than anywhere else in the world.

I like to think that if HIV/Aids were spread by sneezing, scientists would not have spent so much time urging African men to change their sneezing habits — to sneeze in one direction only, to sneeze less often, to sneeze into a tissue — and more time investigating why the virus was having such an utterly devastating effect on one particular region of the world. Have we been so blinded by the legacy of Victorian myth-making about African male sexuality that we can’t see past it? Have we simply swallowed the myth whole and allowed ourselves to believe that one segment of the human race somehow practises utterly different sexual behaviour to everyone else?

Just think how improbable that is for a moment. Sexual activity is one of the great human levellers, along with eating and sleeping. Is it really even slightly likely that one continent is doing it completely differently to all the others? How did we ever let ourselves get seduced by this red herring?

As Venter argues, it appears increasingly obvious that something else is at play here. I am not a scientist and cannot begin to guess what that might be. Suggestions have been floated such as a genetic predisposition to succumb to the disease, regional differences in the virulence of HIV strains, co-morbidity and the presence of other infections, the debilitating effects of poverty, and so on and so forth. It seems to me that these possibilities should be earnestly and energetically investigated with a view to finding the real reason why Africans are so hard hit by Aids.

The importance of spreading awareness and behaviour-modification programmes can obviously not be overstated, because the one thing that is not in doubt is that HIV/Aids is spread primarily by sexual contact. It has been pointed out to me that Venter doesn’t mention the high levels of sexual violence against women in South Africa, and the possible role that this may have in spreading the disease. But that fails to explain why a country like Botswana, which doesn’t have anything like our sexual violence statistics, should be even harder hit by HIV/Aids than we are.

It is a tremendous shame that the “African promiscuity” model as an explanation for HIV/Aids in Africa has been so unquestioningly accepted for so long. We can only be grateful that it is now being properly interrogated and that other explanations are finally being sought.


  • Fiona Snyckers is outrageously opinionated for a novelist-housewife. She is the author of the Trinity series of novels, and hopes to continue getting paid to make stuff up.


  1. chantelle chantelle 8 December 2011

    I am not a Steve Hofmeyr fan, but you should realy get your facts straight. Firstly, to compare him and Zuma silly. You don’t have to put up with Steve’s singing if you don’t want to and he should not be used as an example to your children if you disagree with him.. Zuma is our president, so we all have to put up with him. For now. He should be an example to all and everyone in this country. Secondly, how do you know Steve had unprotected extramarital sex in the past decade or so? His last child born outside of marriage is in the region of 20 years old. You have no idea if the sex he had outside marriage since then was unprotected or not, whereas Zuma admitted in court just recently about his unprotected sexcapades. And very recently some bigshot soccer guy’s daughter was also pregnant from him.
    That said, I’ve always believed that HIV was built into our genetics from the very beginning of time, and that our wild sexual behaviour sparked the spread in recent years. As far back as we can read in history, kings and the likes have died from lung diseases. They were the ones more likely to have had multiple sexual partners. We only discovered the existence of the virus in recent times.
    Furthermore, I agree with Zille. Why SHOULD we pay for someone’s irresponsible sexual ehaviour? I never donate to HIV causes. I would if I knew the money would be used for the innocent, but there’s no way to know.

  2. Shaman sans Frontieres Shaman sans Frontieres 8 December 2011

    Maybe. The nineteenth-century colonial stereotypes are not a power discourse, surely, though? They are no longer dominant, have no traction in contemporary culture.

    I will, though, play devil’s advocate: you mention Botswana, and yet we read that conservative Botswana is considering legalising prostitution as a means of controlling the spread of infections. It’s been acknowledged for a long time, for instance, that long-haul truckers in Southern Africa have frequent sex with prostitutes.

    You approve in your logic, of the statement by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, and yet you criticise Zille for a bald statement that carries the same fundamental implications.

    It is not the old colonial myth of the endangered or enthralled white woman that you need to address. It is emergent African male-oriented chauvinism, including the vicious attitude towards gay people. There is more than enough evidence, legal, political, journalistic, documentary, and idiomatic for a clear case to be made out that sexual mores on our continent are indeed a perilous matter of gender bias and prejudice against African women. I see no need to defend the prejudicial sexual practices of our people by recourse to long-dismissed colonialist social myths.

    The question of size of sexual organs and of virility is merely facetious. But I guess it does have some traction within the realm of the chauvinist psyche and that is where your energies need, surely, to be focused as a cultural or social critic.

  3. Nyathi Nyathi 8 December 2011

    As an African myself, fiona, flattering as the stereotype may be as regards our sexual disposition, I don’t for one second want to subject myself to racist and ill informed opinions others have of me. I do, however, belief that I have an insatiable sexual appetite, which is a debate for another time. The myths that we African’s are prone to irresponsible sexual behavior is a myth that was created and is still believed by many whites.

  4. Wela Patrick Msimanga Wela Patrick Msimanga 8 December 2011

    It is interesting that HIV prevalence rates in countries in West and Central Africa where HIV is supposed to have originated seem rather low, certainly compared to southern Africa, with Cameroon at 5.3%, Central African Republic at 4.7%, and Gabon at 5.2%, according to UNAids Global Report for 2010. Nigeria’s HIV prevalence is at 3.6%, which makes it the biggest epidemic in the region in absolute terms. In contrast, HIV/Aids has impacted disproportionately on African Americans. The dominant strain in North America is subtype B, unlike HIV-1 subtype C responsible for the explosive epidemic here in southern Africa. Clearly what is involved here, and explains the sheer virulence of our epidemics, both in southern Africa and that afflicting African Americans, is primarily behavioural. I think we as Africans have a predilection for hurting each other. We have valorized the habits of being viciously nasty to each other. Whether it is public servants who have no notion of public service, teachers who exploit their charges instead of nurturing and teaching them, or men who perpetrate the most egregious violence against women, our epidemic seems par for the course. I think our collective psyche is damaged, and needs healing. We are hankering for amour propre, as it were. I think it is our tragedy. It is the only conceivably explanation for the readiness of some among to infect not only their loved ones, for example wives who pass the virus to unborn children, but 10 year olds as well

  5. Musa Musa 8 December 2011

    Whilst we work hard to ensure that the right message (prevention) is understood, we cannot neglect all the other potential contributors.

    Pity, though, that this is such an emotive subject. Just imagine these questions being asked by Thabo Mbeki?

    Youngsters in the USA have far riskier sexual habits then South African, speed up a few more years, Africans have the virus and the American not.

    Some much more needs to be looked at when it comes to HIV and TB. There is a lot that we don’t know but it pleases certain quarters of our society to simply look at black Africans and deem them promiscuous, according to their standards, hence the pandemic.Too simplistic, way too simplistic.

  6. mike mike 8 December 2011

    While I don’t have the links to reference it here, there has been highly reputable research conducted which indicates that multiple concurrent sexual relationships spreads HIV very quickly, and very widely.
    Multiple consecutive sexual relationships, while certainly not safe, have been shown to NOT spread HIV anywhere near as fast and far.
    The practice of polygamy, condoned from the highest office of SA Government, is effectively the practice of multiple concurrent sexual relationships, and the occupier of said high office has clearly demonstrated that a) restricting oneself to only ones’ spouse(s) in such arrangements does not happen, and b) what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
    Some myths re African sexuality may be hurting the fight against AIDS, but not all is necessarily myth. And while other possible factors in the spread of HIV should not be overlooked or discounted, they shouldn’t be pursued over those factors which are clearly linked, even if politically undesirable to address.

  7. Philip Cole Philip Cole 8 December 2011

    Thanks #mike for soberly saying what needs to be said. Lies can be made more palatable by mixing them with the truth and this article is a good illustration.

    Fiona is on solid ground, as you would expect from her thesis, when she talks about the ways in which African sexuality has been denigrated and demonised under colonialism and also until quite recently under apartheid.

    But it is frankly disgraceful that she thinks that she can raise questions like this:

    “Have we simply swallowed the myth whole and allowed ourselves to believe that one segment of the human race somehow practises utterly different sexual behaviour to everyone else?”

    without even attempting an answer.

    As #mike points out, multiple concurrent partnerships (MCPs) have been identified as one of the main trajectories by which HIV is spread. The finding that MCPs are more prevalent amongst Africans is strongly supported by the research.

    Once we know the truth, we can best determine what to do about it. Clearly there are many factors responsible for the high prevelance of MCPs. It is legitimate to examine and debate the no doubt many and complex causes.

    But articles like this, which raise questions without answers, are irresponsible and have the potential to take us back to the dangerous AIDS myth-making of the Mbeki era.

    Behaviour change will clearly be the main component. As my Ugandan wife tragically points out: “People only stopped sleeping around when all the AIDS deaths started…

  8. isabella vd Westhuizen isabella vd Westhuizen 8 December 2011

    I have to disagree with my old class mate Francois. I do not think promiscuity is perculiar to Africa but the notion of polygamy means that we have multiple concurrent partners rather than multiple sequential ones and that is why Hiv spread so prominently in Africa.

  9. Geoff Smart Geoff Smart 8 December 2011

    @ Wela Patrick
    Well said!

  10. Rich Brauer Rich Brauer 8 December 2011

    This really isn’t that difficult, and has nothing to do with “Africans” or blackness.

    As Shamans sans Frontieres touches on, one of the predominant vectors for HIV transmission in the developing world is migrant labour. Men who are away from their sexual partners for extended periods of time will seek out other sexual outlets. Oftentimes, that outlet is a prostitute, but another, which many men in the developing world prefer not to mention, is homosexual sex.

    In sub-Saharan Africa, it’s quite common for men to leave their home areas to seek better-paying work in urban centers like Joburg, often for long periods of time. They’re away from their partners, and that leads to sex with other partners.

    But it’s hardly confined to Africa. In India, the map of HIV spread has been along the highways, as (as SfF pointed out) truckers are infecting and being infected by prostitutes. The same is true in China, where, despite the government trying to keep it under wraps, HIV transmission rates are also growing as rural workers migrate to the wealthier coastal areas in search of better paying work.

    When you then add in the pan-cultural phenomenon of sexual “cheating” to a pool of people who have a higher infection rate than exists in areas where migrant labour is not common, you have the recipe for a pandemic.

    As an aside, one of the reasons that areas like the Congo, where HIV probably was born, doesn’t have the same infection rate, is that travel is far more…

  11. Rich Brauer Rich Brauer 8 December 2011

    Oops, ran out of characters.

    That should read, “is that travel is far more difficult.”

    And, of course, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa have taken far more proactive steps to prevent transmission. Belatedly, SA, Botswana, etc. have, but, again, when the virus is present in a significant portion of the population, it’s a much more difficult prospect now.

  12. Richard Richard 9 December 2011

    From what I understand, studies have shown that African males have statistically-higher testosterone levels than Europeans, Orientals or Asians. Since testosterone is associated with risk-taking behaviour, it is not far-fetched that sexual behaviour is indeed riskier. The abstract can be viewed here:

  13. Haze Haze 9 December 2011

    Please give us the relative incidence amongst the different population groups in SA. That could indicate whether subtype C rather than difference in behaviour is the main reason for the levels of infection.

    Your 2nd possibility is the debilitating effects of poverty. This does not explain why some well fed African billionaires have doctors following them around virtually on a retainer basis.

    Current views amongst medical researchers have nothing to do with Victorian myths. They have to do with thinking from the face.

  14. myth myth 9 December 2011

    This is scandalous, I am not hurting any fight against anything = tongue in cheek.

    But it truly is a myth about the Xhosa men and other black Africans. As a white African married to a Kenyan woman, may I mention she is delighted… say no more.

    It comes down to those who are deceived into accepting stereotypes and thus believe themselves to be legends in their own minds – the African playboy syndrome maybe.

    The choices we make lead to our own outcomes. I choose one partner, no monkey business.

    It should be so for all, which at least would contain the spread.

  15. Dave Harris Dave Harris 9 December 2011

    Thought provoking article Fiona.
    The western scientific community are guilty of propagating the myth that the entire AIDS pandemic originated in the jungles of Africa. This kind of institutionalized racism based on questionable science is the cause of greatest evils in our society.

    Undoubtedly, the seemingly “positive” stereotype of African sexuality by western media is yet another example of institutionalized racism that’s part of western media that we are subjected to on a daily basis. The propagation of this stereotype of African male prowess coupled with loose morality is designed to create a the FEAR of the African male – exactly the hidden agenda of the white supremacist mindset!

    btw. It may be worth remembering that the INCEPTION of the AIDS epidemic in SA was during the late 80’s, when the apartheid regime could care less about infection rates in African communities and medical facilities were practically non-existent for the majority of South Africans. The migrant workforce/population migrations and the nature in which AIDS spreads explains why Sub-Saharan Africa was hardest hit.

  16. Michael Michael 9 December 2011

    Fiona is obviously enthralled by myths – facts are not that important.
    Thanks Chantelle and Shaman for your analysis – just about sums up my reaction.

  17. MrK MrK 9 December 2011

    The problem is that HIV/AID$ is a corporate scam, that has never made sense in the 30 years that the myth has been around.

    Over the last 3 decades, many predictions have been made about HIV/AIDS that have simply never materialized. For instance, back in 1987, Randy Shilts wrote in “Fear Of Epidemic In Mud Huts”, that: ” As one prominent California AIDS expert says, “We’re going to see a significant depopulation of entire portions of Africa.” ”

    Clearly, this has not happened anywhere. Even in the ‘epicenter of AIDS’, the Rakai District of Uganda, and Uganda itself, even during the ‘height’ of the epidemic, population growth never dropped below 3% per year. Instead of being depopulated, Uganda went from 14 million in 1985 to 28 million in 2005. No depopulation in the epicenter of AIDS, at all.


    When you are up to be diagnosed in the USA, you have to have 4 consecutive positive tests. Two ELISA screening tests, and two Western Blot confirmation tests. No test tests for the entire virus, only for proteins that (hopefully) belong to the virus. So ELISA tests for either P24 or P55. Western Blot tests for all 9: GAG (P18, P24, P40, P55), POL (P32, P53, P68) AND ENV (P41, P120, P160).

    This is the main reason why there is room for error. ELISA can test for P24 or P55, but there are enough entities out there that are close enough to it, to cause a false positive outcome. As a result, testing always has to be confirmed for diagnosis of individual…

  18. MrK MrK 9 December 2011

    (Continued 1…) This does not happen in population surveys, when only a single ELISA is used to determine whether a sample is positive or negative. In pregnant women, you are certain to get large numbers of false positives, because of interaction with HLAs (Human Leukocyte Antigens). This is specific to women who are and have been pregnant.

    The result is that when UNAIDS does surveys based on blood drawn from pregnant women at urban antenatal clinics (ANCs), there are massive ‘infection rates’. This is where you got the ‘30% of Swazis are HIV positive’, ‘25% of South Africans are HIV positive’, etc. (Google: How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated timberg washingtonpost)

    The myth of childrape

    Rather that admit that HIV testing done this way is nonsense, the fact that small babies can test positive, but both parents test negative, has been explained as ‘child rape’. Rather than state that testing procedures are extremely flawed, they would rather use ‘stranger rape’ of small children as the logical explanation. Think of the racism and ‘othering’ that this implies.

  19. MrK MrK 9 December 2011

    (Continued 2…) The myth of the gay miners

    The idea that high levels of TB among miners is caused not by TB, by poverty and close proximity, or could even be asbesthosis which truly is rampant especially in diamond mining, can be very profitably blamed on personal sexual irresponsibility and therefore can be attributed to HIV/AIDS.


    South Africa, population 50 million, has an annual number of deaths of about 600,000 people. UNAID$ claims that 350,000 of these deaths are HIV/AIDS related. However, the Death Notification Form survey lists the total number of AIDS deaths at around 15,000 a year (between 2.0% and 2.6% of all deaths), not in the hundreds of thousands and over half of all deaths.

    According to the US Census Bureau and it’s ‘with AIDS’ model of population growth, the SA population would have stagnated at 43.9 million in 2004, stalled and started to decline. Instead, South Africa’s population grows as if there is barely any HIV/AIDS at all.


    What you are up against is the global rampage of corporations, who can buy research, set up entire UN agencies, all to sell people pills for $10,- when they cost 10 cents to produce, and exercise control over entire governments. How is that for a markup?

  20. The Creator The Creator 9 December 2011

    Actually, challenging the myths around African sexuality was one of the many things which got Mbeki slated in the press.

    In fact, however, the myths around African sexuality are extremely unlikely to have much to do with the fight against AIDS, because, let’s face it, those myths are almost entirely based in the white racist community. Cultural practices — promiscuity, lack of concern for women’s rights and refusal to wear condoms — are surely much, much more important.

    As various commentators have rightly pointed out, one problem is that these cultural practices are hardly exclusive property of the african community (although sexism is probably more intensive there than elsewhere, partly out of tradition, partly out of poverty). Promiscuity and unsafe sex are common in the white community, yet HIV infection has not taken off there to the same extent as in the african community.

    Very unlikely that it’s genetics (viruses don’t respect genes); much more likely that poverty is the cause. Which takes us back to Mbeki territory, alas.

  21. Wela Patrick Msimanga Wela Patrick Msimanga 9 December 2011

    A few theories have been advanced to account for the kinds of behaviours driving the explosive nature of the HIV/Aids pandemic, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The notion of multiple concurrent relationships, popularized by Helen Epstein, is simply a fancier way of saying that people cheat, swing and so on, something that is certainly not peculiar to sub-Saharan Africa. The contention by Suzanne Madlala, the UKZN medical anthropologist, among others obviously, that age-disparate relationships in South Africa account for our particularly catastrophic prevalence rates is undermined by the fact that in very important countries such India and Iran age-disparate relationship are normal and pervasive, and they do not have an HIv-1 epidemic anywhere near ours in terms of scale. In fact the notion of “transactional sex” sounds like a plot from a Jane Austen novel, does Elizabeth Bennett marry for money or not! Of course all these factors are in some way enmeshed and implicated in the dynamics of our epidemic, but simply inadequate as coherent accounts of its nature and character, unlike the work of the MRC community health specialist Rachel Jewkes. I think Jewkes is right that violence, coercion, fear account for the intractability of our epidemic here. And the argument about the intersection between the constraction of risk to HIV infection and systemic social, economic and cultural violence by Richard G Parker, the Columbia medical anthropologist, does have resonance.

  22. GC GC 9 December 2011

    “SA population would have stagnated at 43.9 million in 2004, stalled and started to decline.”
    This statistic was flawed at the time and from the beginning when a statistical method of measuring the death rate due to Aids was being formulated. The reliability of statistics and the model on which it was/is based sent shockwaves and fear through society then and is still questioned. The fact that population growth has not declined needs to be explained. As a non-reportable cause of death we have no idea how accurate the UN stats are. What has been the nett effect on the rate of death in SA due to HIV and Aids since the ARV roll-out?
    Why Africans are being so hard hit by Aids has been and is still being researched from different perspectives. The most accurate research is now placed in question.
    I have a problem with the report by the Health Minister in the application for funding from the Global Fund 2009. He reports that three thousand people died as a result of a shortage of ARV’s somewhere in the Free State. America went to war for a similar amount of unnecessary deaths. Why no public outcry?
    I find Fiona’s dialectic interesting and is worth debate.

  23. benzo benzo 9 December 2011

    An article ful of prejudiced perspectives, uncomplete and dubious statistics with many responses from some self confessed non-experts.
    As usual, friend Dave manages to introduce the racial element, feet forward.
    With a budget of a few million Rand, I could produce a best selling soapie on the issue to include a gangbang competition between Africans and Europeans.

  24. MrK MrK 9 December 2011


    ” The fact that population growth has not declined needs to be explained. As a non-reportable cause of death we have no idea how accurate the UN stats are. ”

    I agree that there is no explanation for the continued population growth, if the claims about AIDS deaths were true. They are, however, entirely based on statistical projections of what deaths ‘should’ be considering the presumption of the prevalence of HIV.

    However, they don’t show up on surveys. The Death Notification Form was collected by Statistics South Africa, and HIV/AIDS definitely is listed as a reportable cause of death, and is listed as “Deaths from Human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] diseases (B20 – B24)”

    (Google: “death notification forms” statssa)

  25. MrK MrK 9 December 2011

    Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2008: Findings from death notification
    Embargoed until: 18 November 2010 11:30

    Table 4.6: The ten leading underlying natural causes of death for males and females, 2008*

    Human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] disease (B20-B24)
    men (number, %): 7 210; 2,4%
    women (number, %): 7 873 2,7%

    In other words, HIV/AIDS is nowhere near being 60% of the causes of death claimed by UNAIDS.

    The key is in the surveys. Surveys based on single ELISA HIV tests massively overstate the prevalence of HIV in the general population, and Antenatal Clinic surveys (of pregnant women in urban areas) do so even more than Demographic And Health Surveys (DHS).

    And compare this: total number of deaths, 2008: 592 073
    UNAIDS Aids Deaths in 2009: 310,000

    In other words, UNAIDS claim that 52% of South Africans who died, died of HIV/AIDS. StatsSA states that HIV/AIDS was about 2.4% and 2.7% among the leading causes of death on the Death Notification Forms.

    (From “It is believed that in 2009, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of AIDS.2”)

    Clearly, a discrepancy. :)

  26. MLH MLH 9 December 2011

    These I have heard:
    ‘a genetic predisposition to succumb to the disease…’ and ‘…the presence of other infections…’.

    For the rest, I suspect they’d go down well with a bunch of 16-year-olds, Fiona, but you are addressing adults here. If Steve Hofmeyr and Naas Botha are national icons, then that has definitely passed me by and I at no stage supposed that Zille was taking a racist stance to HIV/AIDS.

    Aside from those, Mike’s perspective is another I know.

    Once we’d got past the myth of ‘the gay disease’ and SA black people were reported to be suffering from the virus, since ARVs did not exist, I also believed that AIDS could do irreparable damage to the size of our black population, because it had descended like a plague further north. However, this seems not to have happened.

    The debilitating effects of poverty seem as logical to me as a vastly increased birth rate in New York, nine months after a power cut there; and that one, to my knowledge, was fact.

  27. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 December 2011

    I see that all my comments about the contributing factor of polygamy have been edited out?

    Since as many boys as girls are born, polygamy works by rich old men “buying” young girls to be wives from poor parents who need the labola .

    Girls of better off families, wealthy fathers, or independent means, don’t marry but have lovers – their children then belong to the mother’s family, not the father’s.

    Like the only young girl who got herself impregnated by Zuma, that Zuma did NOT marry was the Iron Duke’s daughter – he made Zuma pay for “defiling” his daughter instead.

  28. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 December 2011

    That polygamy gives young girls to the old men (elders) is universal – not just in black society.

    It was even eorse in the Mormon sect in America – where young boys were just dumped out of the community.

    This practice, plus the resulting enslavement of both women and children of minor ,wives is well described in the book “Escape” by Caroline Jessup. She managed to escape with her five children, one of them disabled, in a heroic odyssey, and let the world know what was going on in that closed community.

    It has nothing to do with skin colour – and everything to do with patriarchy.

  29. Loudly Safrican Loudly Safrican 10 December 2011

    Loved the illustrations and captions. Brilliant!

    One quibble: Zille was not questioning sexual activity, prowess, endowment or appetites but calling for more “ABC” safe sex behaviour, the same call made by Venter in his article, by state health departments, by educators and by the ANCYL. Her tweets have been misrepresented by “the usual suspects” amongst the cutesie Leftie brigade.

    For your Ph.D. you could research why, during apartheid, so many dominees – the pillars of morality, the immorality laws [sic] and sexual repression – not only strayed, but when they, did it was, ahem, “on the dark side”.

  30. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 December 2011

    One of the problems with tackling the problems of polygamy openly is that the two main “black” leaders of the world today, Mandela and Obama, although monogamous themselves, come from polygamous antecedents, and eulogise the “culture” of their fathers’ in their books.

    I often think that Obama has a soft spot for Zuma, because Zuma is very like Obama’s grandfather – who was a brilliant and innovative man, and a polygamist whose first wife could also not bear children.

  31. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 December 2011

    The only time polygamy is justified is in times of war – to protect the widows and orphans of men who have died, and the daughters of men going into battle.

    The Prophet Mohammed’s first wife was a widow, and his later wives were daughters of men fighting for him in battle.

    Similarly the Christians Mormons took up polygamy after the vast majority of their men were killed in battle – but they agreed at the time that this was to be for one generation only!

  32. nguni nguni 10 December 2011

    Its simple, why all this denial? the AIDS epidemic confirms the prejudices people have regarding black sexuality. Why Africa was not depopulated by AIDS is also not complicated: the virus can’t keep up with the average black woman’s breeding rate. To blame the epidemic on genetics and poverty is a cop-out.

  33. Yolanda Yolanda 10 December 2011

    There is a ring of trugh in what the Health Minister’s comments about the responsibility of men. Men’s attitude’s play an important role in the transmission of HIV/Aids. Firstly, the partriarchial society in Africa which is more to the man’s advantage and weakens a women’s power to negotiate sex. Secondly, polygamy makes it more acceptable for men to have numerous partners, and they’re seen as ‘stud’ which encourages promiscuity. Thirdly, most African men DO NOT LIKE USING CONDOMS’, especially with stable girlfiends and their wives, but how do they know that their ‘steady girlfriend’/mistress’ has not been sleeping around. Any suggestion to use a condom seems to be an admission that you’ve been sleeping around or that you dont trust them.

  34. MrK MrK 10 December 2011


    ” Why Africa was not depopulated by AIDS is also not complicated: the virus can’t keep up with the average black woman’s breeding rate. ”

    That is a justification that is often heard but never substantiated.

    It also presumes that the birth rate in South Africa is *higher* than in countries with low HIV prevalence like Nigeria (3.6% according to, just to keep up with mortality from HIV/AIDS. Instead, from Index Mundi:

    Nigeria: Birth rate: 35.51 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
    South Africa: Birth rate: 19.48 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)

    According to them, Nigeria has a much higher birth rate than South Africa.

    So where is this high birth rate that is supposed to cancel out 52% of the people who die, dying from HIV/AIDS?

    (I have to add that this is not primary data, and that the Index Mundi data explicitly take into account presumptions about the impact of HIV/AIDS. All I can say is that it shows that South Africa’s birth rate is not considered higher than Nigeria’s.)

  35. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 11 December 2011

    Men have weird ideas about women and sex.

    Many women reaching 30 who do not yet have a husband decide to have a child without one (colour of skin and culture being irrellevant).

    They do not chose a sperm donor for his ability to use his dipstick, but by the influence of his family and friends to advance the future of their child.

    That Zuma impregnated a number of young women at that age when under stress is not to me proof of virility, but proof of gullibility, plus embarrassment at using a condomn.

    After all Zuma was an orphan, who spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island, and then 15 years in the bush. How would he know anything about women?

    Then he had to marry the lot, post Polokwane, to look respectable, and call it culture!

  36. fraud fraud 12 December 2011

    All I hear is white people protecting their views of Africans having different sexual behaviour than anyone else. That’s the only way I can explain the hatred (from white commentators) against the author. Once again, “it’s all right, coz it’s white”….that’s the message. A white view on anything is always right and mustn’t be challenged. Shame…

  37. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 12 December 2011


    I think you miss the point – what commentators are saying is that patriarchy is patriarchy, and sexist, anywhere and in any skin colour. If African men insist their “culture” is patriarchy then don’t expect to be praised as heroes

    For example:

    1. Why can black men have multiple wives, and black women not have multiple husbands?

    2. Why can only black men, and not black women ,speak in the lekotla?

    3. Why are only men allowed rights of inheritance to land ,and not women?

    4. Why does the dowry of labola belong to her parents and not to the girl getting married?

  38. fraud fraud 12 December 2011

    Lyndall…..all the points you raised (1 to 4) are valid. But I would just like to inform you that ALL cultures ALL over the world have the same issues. Asians, Muslim comnunities, etc. Even in the western culture those issues are there, it’s just that they are more disguised through gentlemen’s clubs, multiple mistresses (instead of multiple wives), etc. So why do you see this as only a black issue? Perhaps your view is in line with what your hero Verwoed said about blacks being subhuman creatures who cannot control their impulses like animals, and are only good for hard labour (which is why proper education would have been be wasted on them)….If these are also your beliefs, then you are likely to believe that the 4 issues you’ve raised are unique to blacks.

  39. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 13 December 2011


    I see no problem with prostitutes for men-provided they are professionals, self employed, and dont get exploited by pimps.

    Nor with mistresses IF the mistress WANTS to be a mistress and not a wife.

    In your list of sexist cultures I notice you don’t include the Japanese. Maybe they have such a non-violent and organised society because of their Geisha girls? Who, by the way, retire rich – and then can choose a husband of their choice should they wish.

  40. MrK MrK 13 December 2011


    Have you noticed that Lyndall Beddy and cohorts have no data to back up anything they are saying?

    I have posited information and (google) links to articles here for all to read and comment on, and yet they never get beyond assertions that they do not back with statistics.

    Meanwhile… The simplest explanation for the projected high mortality from HIV/AIDS not showing up in Death Notification Forms surveys, or in population growth statistics, is not that these two forms of surveys are wrong, but that the projections about the prevalence of HIV in South Africa are wrong.

    To them I say, let’s collectively get those data right first, before trying to find justifications for why they would be true.

  41. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 15 December 2011


    The Death certificates never show AIDS, but only the opportunistic diseases, to save the families embarrassment – the stats are taken from hospital and doctors records.

    And the source for that information was a discussion on SAFM

  42. MrK MrK 15 December 2011

    Hi Lyndall Beddy,

    ” The Death certificates never show AIDS, but only the opportunistic diseases ”

    They do, and in the Death Notification Forms, they are literally listed as:

    “Deaths from Human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] diseases (B20 – B24)”

    So HIV/AIDS is reportable as a cause of death, and they do show up on the DNFs, just in a much smaller number than would be expected from the claims UNAIDS makes about mortality from HIV in South Africa. (2.0% to 2.7%, instead of around 52%.)

    ” And the source for that information was a discussion on SAFM ”

    Could you be more precise? :)

    This claim has been made before, but like the claim that HIV can’t keep up with South Africa’s birth rate, was completely unsubstantiated.

    I would be very interested in a survey that shows that South African doctors routinely fail or refuse to list the correct cause of death, because that is also a crime. It always seems hinkey to me that they would put their licenses and liberty on the line just to spare the families’ feelings.

    But if there is proof, I am interested in knowing about it.

  43. MrK MrK 15 December 2011


    Just to follow up. The largest survey I could find on the reliability of the Death Notification Forms, show underreporting of 53.1%, and 58% in a much smaller survey.

    If that rate is true nationwide, then the 15,000 people who are identified are 42% (100%-58%) to 46.9% (100%-53.1%) of all AIDS deaths in the survey, which is 31,982 to 35,714.

    According to UNAIDS, it should be 52% of all deaths, or 296,036 (100% = 592,073) of death notification forms.

    In other words, the rate of underreporting that appears from these small samples, is about 1/2 of all cases, not 1/20 as UNAIDS numbers state.

    So, rounding off for clarity:

    HIV Deaths DNF: 32,000 to 36,000
    UNAIDS: 296,000

    A discrepancy, as I have said before. According to UNAIDS, hundreds of thousands of deaths in the DNF surveys should be attributed to HIV/AIDS, from the actual DNF survey, taking into account surveys of underreporting, it is tens of thousands. Available online (google the title). Notice that the large survey is in Cape Province, the much smaller survey is in KZN.

    South African Journal of Psychiatry
    South African Medical Journal, Vol 99, No 9 (2009)
    Quality of cause of death certification at an academic hospital: Cape Town, South Africa
    Beatrice Nojilana, Pam Groenewald, Debbie Bradshaw, Gavin Reagon

    A total of 983 death certificates were evaluated.

    Based on the sub-sample, the minimum prevalence of HIV among the deceased patients was 15.7% (95% CI: 11.1-20.3) and the…

  44. MrK MrK 17 December 2011

    (Continued…) Based on the sub-sample, the minimum prevalence of HIV among the deceased patients was 15.7% (95% CI: 11.1-20.3) and the underreporting of deaths due to AIDS was 53.1% (95% CI: 35.8-70.4).

    Under-reporting of HIV in rural South Africa
    Dr Clare Hollister AIT
    Severn Deanery

    Results: 81 of 120 (68%) cases had proven HIV infection as an underlying cause of death. Of these, only 34 (42%) were attributed to HIV on the DNF. On 7 DNF’s (9%) the word HIV was used while on 27 DNF’s (33%) a euphemism was used, i.e. “Retroviral disease” or “immune suppression”. Of the 81 cases with proven HIV, 47 (58%) had no record of HIV on the DNF.

    Methods: Retrospective review of DNF’s produced by doctors working in the department of family medicine at Ngwelezana Hospital, a government hospital in KZN, South Africa. 120 case files and accompanying DNF’s were reviewed over a period of 6 months from May to October 2009.

  45. MrK MrK 1 January 2012

    So, you can summarize that the rate of underreporting HIV/AIDS as a cause of death on the Death Notification Forms Survey can be estimated as 53.1% to 58%.

    Consistently, about 15,000 out of 600,000 deaths are attributed to HIV/AIDS on the DNFs survey. 15,000 would be 46.9% (at 53.1% underreporting) or 42% (at 58% underreporting) of all HIV/AIDS deaths in the DNFs Survey.

    That means the real number of HIV/AIDS deaths in the DNFs Survey would be about 32,000 to 36,000. (15,000 = 46.9%, then 100% =31,983; 15,000 = 42%, then 100% = 35,714)

    With an actual coverage of all deaths as estimated by StatsSA of 80% (4/5ths) of all deaths nationwide showing up in the DNFs Survey, that is a total nationwide number of deaths from HIV/AIDS of 39,978 (40,000) or 44,643.

    This obviously is a far cry, from the UNAID$ death rate of 310,000 South Africans dying of HIV/AIDS in the year 2009 alone.

    The population growth of South Africa also shows the lie of a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic.

  46. Gail Gail 21 March 2012

    It is odd to reflect that MCP previously stood for male chauvinist pig and now has a way more sinister connotation. I learned something from this article today regarding the concurrent versus consecutive infection rate.

    It would be interesting t know whether the infection rate among the poor of for eg South America is higher or lower since this may indicate that poverty plays a role in opportunistic infections which are what ultimately kill the HIV+ victim.

    If it is indeed more prevalent among Africans one wonders whether it has anything to do with the patriarchal societies which exist on the African continent and also what role environmental factors play in the prevalence. If one were to look at Africans as those who migrated from North to South Africa.For eg what implication would that have for the genetic pool amongst Africans as opposed to the spread of man into the Northern Hemisphere where environment was in some respects less forgiving than in Africa. It is possible this would account for why African Americans are more susceptible but to a different strain. In addition what effect have medical advances of the past 100 years actually had on man in general globally and ethnically from a susceptability point of view? From a Darwinian perspective is this confirmation of survival of the fittest or the opposite? Is the virus a symptom of a species under extreme stress being less able to endure unless there is radical change in cultural mores? So many questions!

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