CIES Secretariat    Florida International University    312 ZEB    Miami, FL  33199

Number 144




Educating Citizens and HIV/AIDS: Challenges for South Africa

By Susan J. Goetz, Ed.D.*


      Imagine a “typical” American college that has a total population of 6,000 people.  This population includes students, staff, faculty, and administrators.  Of this group 25% or 1,500 people on campus are HIV positive or living with full-blown AIDS.  What effect does this have on the college to educate students? 

      This may seem to be an improbable scenario for the United States.  It is, however, a real and present scenario for education systems in South Africa.  In January, the author traveled with 20 students registered for a global search for justice course to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.  Among the many facts, impressions, experiences and visual images we brought home with us, the affect of the apartheid era Bantu Education legislation and the current prevalence of HIV/AIDS remain two of the most lasting. 

      The availability of structured, consistent, regular education has suffered two waves of disruption that results in two generations of South Africans living without the benefit of education.  Without education, they are jobless, living in squatter camps, dying of AIDS and related diseases. 

      The crisis of HIV/AIDS is evident throughout the country.  The most graphic evidence of the disease is in the cemeteries.  New graves rise up from the ground. On Saturdays when most of the burials take place, someone is needed to direct the traffic moving one funeral party forward while holding others back until a roadway is cleared. Orphanages, a previously unknown institution among southern African cultures, are needed.  Those that exist cannot house all the children who need housing and nurturing. 

      There is controversy around the current Minister of Health and the current President of South Africa because statements made at the international HIV/AIDS conference and their reluctance to make retroviral medications easily available. Community activists are  challenging the government policy on HIV/AIDS. Many organizations provide community-based clinics. 

      HIV/AIDS has had a crippling effect on education in South Africa.  Parents with HIV/AIDS are unable to work and unable to pay school fees or buy books and uniforms for their children.  Teenagers living with HIV are often ill and unable to attend school on a regular basis. HIV/AIDS appeared early in universities.  Both faculty and students have high incidence of the disease. With fewer students at university and with young educated professionals dying in unprecedented numbers, the future leadership for South Africa is compromised. The struggle for the current government is to educate the population about AIDS prevention, care for those with the disease, and prepare for a future with where one in four workers will die young.    

      Another impact on education in South Africa began on June 16, 1976, with the youth uprising that began as a protest to teaching Afrikaans in all of the schools. Marching students were met on the street by armed police, and violence broke out. Children were killed. That day marked the beginning of the uprising, years of violence and protest. Many of the youth involved in the protest never returned to school. While the oppressive government finally came to an end, the individuals involved in the uprising missed an education. Today, people in their forties and fifties are still without a formal education. This compounds the impact HIV/AIDS has on education in the country. 

      In a country that has ample natural resources, boundless beauty, a climate that is neither too hot nor too cold year ‘round, it is ironic to know that the one missing attribute is a well-educated and healthy population. During the time we spent in South Africa with students we heard a great deal about the emphasis on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, far less about education; yet it is education that is desperately needed to not only provide people with facts and information about the disease but also to create a population of educated professionals to insure a brighter future for the country.  In talking with people in South Africa and visiting the cemetery, it became obvious that it is the 20- to 40-year old population, the working professionals, who are hardest hit by AIDS. We left South Africa feeling that educational prioritization is key to the future vitality of the country.  

      The aspiration of South African parents for their children is similar to that of immigrant parents in the United States who want their children to have the education they never had.  It is similar to the aspirations of parents of first generation college/university U.S. students – the first college educated person in the family. The lack of an educated population is visible in South Africa today.  The effects HIV/AIDS is visible in South Africa today. The country’s challenge is to have both educated and healthy citizens. South Africa’s future may well depend on how this challenge is met.


*Dr. Susan J. Goetz is an Associate Professor at The College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN








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