President Mbeki could be considered culpable in the loss of many lives, due to his not rolling out of ARV drugs (anti-retroviral), in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. Let me aver, mistakes should not entail the loss of lives, especially if government is in error and thousands of lives are put in jeopardy, with death as consequence.
Epidemiologists decry the disease of AIDS, but the impact of AIDS is much more than the disease, as I was soon to find out.
Shiluvane Location: Athalia Malatji is 10. She has sores in her vaginal area. She sometimes finds it difficult to walk. Her sister, Dorah (21), has been expelled from school because of her age. Their uncle, who lives in their yard in a house his now deceased sister had built for him, is threatening the children with eviction. In this house a ghetto-blaster is centerpiece in the lounge.
Another woman I met in Shiluvane Location had taken to occult medication in order to stop the sores or shingles she was developing on her swollen legs. She seemed disillusioned with a government indifferent to her plight.
Dan Location: In the Mkansi house, not too far away, I took a picture of one of the boys. For a long time I was not happy with the portraits and I couldn’t place my finger on why. In these photographs, if you carefully study his body language, his gender seems ambiguous. This particular boy takes care of the house and cooks for the family while the macho brother fends for them. The youngest brother seems angry, not accepting their situation.
Indicating absence of parenting at yet another house; music posters, religious icons and graffiti are festooned on walls. CDs, as decoration, are left hanging about the living room. Although Petrus Khame is only 13, he attends school regularly. His friends smoke ‘weed’.
Now, in tackling the project, I am mindful not to create victims as I go along. My approach is the same I use in approaching landscape photography. Therefore, each of the houses – I regard as landscapes of absence – looking to see what a home looks like without parents.
Landscape is affected and gender as well. Gender roles are set; they are not to be trifled with, especially in chieftaincies. Generally roles are adjusted after a death in the family. In patriarchal or Calvinistic societies such as this, the absence of parents creates more problems for children who are male, not so much if female of gender. A tomboy doesn’t raise as many eyebrows as a sissy does.
‘AIDS orphans’ was suggested as title for the project. Naming it ‘Childheaded Households’ is already progress seeing that AIDS has stigma, still. That is why everyone here dies of ‘natural causes’ even when their CD4+ count is found to be deficient.
In the townships I visited, ARVs were being rolled out through churches and NGOs. In spite of a then AIDS denialist government, at least chiefdoms had leeway and are accountable to needs of their denizens.
Note: In both the text and the image titles names may have been altered to protect the identity of minors.