HIV/AIDS in South Africa: Graphic signs countering the stigma and silence

  • Nadine Chariatte


South Africa is one of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. Despite this strong presence of HIV/AIDS in South African society the disease remains stigmatised and is not openly talked about. The silence about HIV/AIDS maintained in everyday conversations and the superstitions associated with it have led to creative uses of social media to discuss HIV/AIDS-related issues. This study aims to investigate how South African users resort to specific graphic signs to talk about HIV/AIDS online. The analysis is situated within a theoretical frame-work of small stories. An important feature of the small stories analysed is the stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS and numerous related issues. For this study 368 Facebook status updates and comments concerning HIV/AIDS and its side effects were analysed. All of the participants (80 in total), aged 14–48, lived in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town at the moment of data collection. In most cases the graphic signs display a graphic depiction of the physical, mental and social effects of the illness, different ways of transmission, and everyday life with HIV/AIDS. These semiotic practices employed on Facebook provide insight into how Capetonian users, on the one hand, express solidarity and sympathy with people suffering from HIV/AIDS. On the other hand, the graphic signs are used to (negatively) label and blame people affected by HIV/AIDS. This leads to acts of othering and distancing of people affected by HIV/AIDS. Thus, in the South African context social media have become an important space and means for communicating HIV/AIDS issues. As users from the Cape Flats draw on a range of graphic signs to discuss diverse HIV/AIDS-related issues online despite the stigmatisation, these graphic signs might create new opportunities to fight HIV/AIDS.
Chariatte, N. (2017). HIV/AIDS in South Africa: Graphic signs countering the stigma and silence. Linguistik Online, 87(8).