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Perceptions of HIV/AIDS on a Johannesburg gold mine

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Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 mine-workers on a Johannesburg gold mine, focusing on workers’ perceptions of health, HIV/AIDS and sexuality. The paper seeks to highlight a range of factors which might predispose mine-workers to high-risk sexual behaviour, despite the fact that they had all attended HIV-education programmes. These factors are presented within a framework that views the process of sexual decision-making as a debating process - in which competing facts and beliefs are weighed up against one another - within the context of a range of normative and social parameters. Firstly attention is given to a number of pre-existing perceptions and doubts which may blunt the force of the facts that HIV educational messages seek to impart to this particular group of people. These include a lack of perceived urgency regarding the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), a commitment to ‘flesh-to-flesh’ sex , a dislike of condoms, and faith in the ability of traditional healers to cure a range of STD’s and possibly also HIV/AIDS. Secondly attention is given to the normative context of sexuality, and in particular the way in which norms of masculinity predispose people to high-risk sexual behaviour. Finally the paper focuses on some aspects of social and occupational life on the mines as the context within which sexual relationships are conducted. These include the phenomenon of single sex hostels, an acceptance of high levels of disease and accidents as the norm, and the use of alcohol. The paper concludes with a discussion of the challenges these findings pose for a peer education programme which is shortly to be implemented in the mining context.

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