AIDS, speech and silence in South Africa (Respond to this article at



Confessional technologies are frequently deployed to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In South Africa, these are most eagerly embraced by activists of the urban-based Treatment Action Campaign, who use speech such as public confession and testimony to overcome pathos. However, fieldwork in the Bushbuckridge area of the South African lowveld shows wide resistance to direct speech about AIDS. In this article I explore reasons for such resistance. In addition to the stigma of labelling and poor treatment options, I argue that villagers feared the innate power of words such as ‘HIV’ and ‘AIDS’ to crystalize sickness, and bring fears of death into consciousness. In conclusion, I suggest that rather than insist upon confession, health providers could use speech and silence as alternative modes of dealing with AIDS.